10 Years Into Jihadist Rebellion, No Reprieve For Nigeria’s Displaced

 

Maiduguri resident Ahmed Muhammed wanders through the rubble left behind as he recalls the outbreak of fighting in his city a decade ago that launched the Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria.

“We heard shooting — badadadadadada — here, there, everywhere around us,” the 44-year-old railway worker told AFP.

“We thought the end of the universe had come.”

In late July 2009, tensions between the hardline Islamist sect and authorities in northeast Nigeria boiled over as the group launched a wave of attacks and security forces fought back ruthlessly.

The epicentre of the violence was the compound of the group’s founder Muhammad Yusuf.

After several days of fighting, Yusuf and hundreds of Boko Haram members were dead and a conflict had been unleashed that would devastate the region.

The mosque and the homes that once stood there are now just a pile of debris — an unmarked monument to the suffering of the past 10 years.

In the decade since the uprising began, some two million people have been uprooted from their homes and 27,000 killed as the bloodshed has spilt into neighbouring countries.

Boko Haram has turned vast swathes of territory into a no man’s land and forced its way into international headlines by abducting hundreds of schoolgirls.

While the Nigerian army has pushed the fighters from major towns, the jihadists have splintered into factions and spawned an offshoot aligned to the Islamic State group that has unleashed its own campaign of violence.

‘No option’

Waves of the conflict crashed over Hadiza Bukar’s village near Baga close to the shores of Lake Chad in 2015 when Boko Haram fighters stormed through the area.

Bukar fled with her newborn twin sons, leaving behind her husband and two other children.

She has not heard from them since.

What remains of the family is now among the roughly quarter-of-a-million people displaced and struggling to survive in and around Maiduguri, capital of Borno State.

Studded across the city are government-approved camps and informal settlements of corrugated iron, sticks and shreds of tarpaulin.

READ ALSO: 65 Killed In Boko Haram Funeral Attack

The only place Bukar found to live is at the ground zero of the insurgency that tore her life apart. Her makeshift home stands on the edge of the ruins of Yusuf’s former compound.

When the downpours come in the rainy season the place turns into a quagmire.

“Many people told us stories about what happened here. They warned us there was a history,” she said, of the bloodshed in 2009. “But we had no option. We have nowhere to go. We decided to stay.”

Across town in another district Idrissa Isah, 45, scrapes by as best he can.

Isah used to send cows to Nigeria’s economic hub Lagos, but now all he has is a small patch of earth near his shack that a local landowner lets him till.

The little he grows helps supplement sporadic handouts from international aid groups and feed his family. He says he has had no government support.

Isah is desperate to return to his village of Makulbe about 30 kilometres (20 miles) from Maiduguri, but the risk is too high.

“If I could go back I would — I would have a big, big farm,” he said.

“There is no way I can.”

Attempted return

Finding a way home for the displaced is seen as key to solving the humanitarian crisis in northeast Nigeria.

After forcing the jihadists back to remote hideouts, the government insists the security situation is stabilising.

But attacks persist outside heavily fortified towns.

Over just a few days in July, five soldiers were killed and six aid workers kidnapped.

On Thursday, a Boko Haram raid killed at least two people in a displaced camp near Maiduguri.

So far this year, 130,000 people have been displaced in northeast Nigeria, the International Organization for Migration says.

Ibrahim Bukar, 48, is comparatively lucky.

The local government accountant still receives his official salary of about $80 (75 euros) a month even though he has not worked in his hometown Bama, 65 km from Maiduguri, since it was devastated by fighting more than four years ago.

But the wage does not cover rent and he squats with his wife and four children in the one-room servants’ quarters of an acquaintance’s house.

Last October, after more than four years away, he decided to go home.

“There was nothing,” he said.

“No food, no potable water, no health services, no teachers — don’t even talk of electricity.”

Beyond the town, he said, you cannot travel safely for more than a kilometre. After three months, Bukar gave up and headed back to Maiduguri.

Camps still filling

The displaced camps are still filling up.

A sprawling site around the city’s main stadium opened in March and has already reached its capacity with over 12,000 people.

Fatima Mohammed, 38, moved into a tarpaulin shelter three weeks ago with her husband and two children.

She arrived from an overcrowded camp not far away, having been displaced several times since being forced from her village five years ago.

She has no idea if, or when, she will see home again.

“All depends on god — if there is peace I will go back immediately,” she said.

“But if there is no peace then there is no way I can return.”

AFP

UN Appeals For $184 Million For Cameroon’s Displaced Persons

 

The United Nations on Tuesday called for $184 million (163 million euros) to help more than 400,000 people displaced by the separatist conflict in western Cameroon.

“Violent clashes in Cameroon between the military and armed separatists over the past 13 months have forcibly displaced thousands, including across the border into Nigeria,” the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said in a statement.

“The humanitarian situation continues to deteriorate. And there are fears now that more people will become displaced over the coming months.”

The UN estimates that 437,000 have been displaced in Cameroon itself, while over 35,000 have fled across the border into Nigeria — a number that is expected to rise as fighting continues.

Of the estimated aid needs, $35.4 million is needed urgently, “for critical life-saving assistance,” the UNHCR said.

The Northwest and Southwest Regions of Cameroon are in the grip of an armed campaign launched by anglophone separatists in October 2017.

At least 500 civilians and more than 200 members of the security forces have died in clashes, attacks and a government crackdown, the International Crisis Group (ICG) says.

Around a fifth of Cameroon’s population of 24 million are English-speakers.

Their presence can be traced back to the colonial era.

After World War I Germany surrendered Kamerun, its principal colony in West Africa, which was then taken over by Britain and France.

France was given the greater part of the territory, which became independent in 1960.

A year later, the British colony also gained independence. Some of the English-speaking areas opted to join newly-formed Nigeria, while others chose to join the federation of Cameroon.

English-speakers have chafed for years at perceived discrimination in education, law and economic opportunities at the hands of the francophone majority.

In 2017, as the authorities refused demands for greater autonomy for the Northwest and Southwest Regions, the anglophone movement radicalised.

On October 1 that year, separatists declared the creation of the “Republic of Ambazonia” in the two regions, named after the local Ambas Bay. The declaration has not been recognised internationally.

AFP

Nearly 120,000 Displaced In Myanmar Floods

Residents walk in floodwaters in the Bago region, some 68 km away from Yangon, on July 29, 2018. Heavy monsoon rains have pounded Karen state, Mon state and Bago region in recent days and show no sign of abating, raising fears that the worst might be yet to come. Ye Aung THU / AFP

 

Nearly 120,000 people have been displaced after floods submerged a vast swathe of southeastern Myanmar, killing 11 people and sending panicked residents fleeing for dry ground with children perched on their shoulders and few belongings in tow.

An official told AFP Tuesday over 118,000 people have taken refuge in 285 camps so far, as the toll climbed to 11 dead — including three soldiers — with more deaths feared.

Swirling, muddy waters reached thatched-roofed homes and wiped out farmland in four provinces as officials scrambled to set up rescue centres amid continued torrential rains on Tuesday.

Rescuers in boats tried to pluck people from floodwaters in Hpa-an in Karen state while other residents tried to escape by any means possible, balancing on makeshift rafts or wading out carrying children and plastic bags of goods.

“There could be a few more casualties but we are still collecting the information,” Social Welfare Ministry Director Phyu Lei Lei Tun said.

“Water is going down in some places. But we do not know how long the disaster will last.”

Meanwhile, five others were confirmed killed in a landslide triggered by heavy rains in Kawthaung township in Myanmar’s southern tip.

Evacuation orders are still in place for many flood-stricken areas with a number of rivers exceeding danger levels by several feet and 36 dams and reservoirs overflowing, state-backed Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported.

The Mekong region has been battered by particularly heavy monsoon rains this year, causing devastating floods that have forced thousands to flee and wiped out homes and farmland.

Heavy rains caused a massive dam in southern Laos to collapse last week, wiping out entire villages and killing at least 11 — though earlier official tolls initially put the number as high as 27.

Floodwaters from that catastrophe seeped into Cambodia and forced thousands from their homes.

Rescuers are still searching for survivors in southern Laos more than a week after the dam collapse, with Thai, South Korean and Chinese specialists joining efforts to find scores still missing.

AFP

19 Bodies Found After Laos Dam Collapse, Hundreds Still Missing

Residents displaced by massive flood waters from the collapsed dam seek shelter in Paksong town in Champasak province on July 25, 2018. YE AUNG THU / AFP

 

Rescuers recovered 19 bodies and hundreds remain missing after a dam collapse swamped several villages in southern Laos, as survivors Wednesday questioned why they got little warning of the deluge.

Two South Korean contractors said they reported damage a day before parts of the Xe-Namnoy dam gave way Monday and unleashed a wall of water.

A Thai consular official, Chana Miencharoen, at the scene of the relief effort in Attepeu province told AFP 19 bodies had been recovered.

“Seventeen others are injured and in hospital,” he said, adding roof-level floodwater was hampering rescue efforts.

In an update on Wednesday afternoon, state-run Laos News Agency said hundreds of people remained unaccounted for, with at least 50 missing from the village of Ban Mai alone.

Footage on Laos television showed people huddled on roofs awaiting rescue as the muddy water swirled menacingly just below them.

Questions began to emerge over the collapse, with some of the displaced saying they were warned to evacuate homes only hours before disaster struck.

“It happened quickly, we had little time to prepare ourselves,” Joo Hinla, 68, from one of the worst-hit villages of Ban Hin Lath, told AFP from a warehouse crammed with over 700 displaced people in a neighbouring province.

“All of the houses in my village are under water. Four of my family are missing, we don’t know about their fate yet.”

Hundreds of other displaced people, including women, children and the elderly, sat on the floor nearby surrounded by plastic bags crammed with meagre belongings.

The damming of Laos 

Laos, poor but blessed with abundant natural resources, aims to become the “Battery of Asia” allowing dozens of foreign-funded dam projects across its network of rivers.

But fears over the environmental impact of the projects, which export most of their electricity to neighbouring Thailand and China, go virtually unvoiced inside the tightly controlled communist country.

Villagers across the country have been moved, some several times, to make way for dams whose benefits are mainly enjoyed outside of the country, campaigners say.

Once complete, around 90 per cent of the electricity generated by the Xe-Namnoy dam was destined for Thailand.

The remote flooded area is only accessible by helicopter and flat-bottomed boats, with roads badly damaged or completely washed away.

Rescue officials in neighbouring Thailand were reportedly stuck at the border because Laotians were sluggish in allowing access to the country.

South Korea was sending a relief team to the area, President Moon Jae-in’s spokesman said Wednesday in Seoul.

“Although we are still determining the cause of the dam accident, our government must actively take part in on-site relief efforts without delay as our companies were involved in the construction of the dam,” Moon was quoted as saying.

 Questions over warning 

Two South Korean companies involved in the $1.2 billion project said damage was reported a day before the dam collapsed following heavy monsoon rain.

SK Engineering & Construction said it discovered that the upper part of the structure had washed away at around 9:00 pm on Sunday.

“We immediately alerted the authorities and began evacuating villagers downstream,” it said in a statement.

Repair work was hampered by rain which had damaged roads, it said, and early on Monday water was discharged from the Xe-Namnoy dam — one of the two main dams in the project — to try to relieve pressure on the auxiliary structure.

The government was warned about further damage to the dam at around noon, prompting an official evacuation order for villagers downstream, and the structure collapsed a few hours later, it said.

Dam operator Korea Western Power Co. said one of the auxiliary dams — “Saddle D” — broke under heavy rain.

But according to a timeline the firm provided in a report to a South Korean lawmaker and obtained by AFP, it said: “11 centimetres of subsidence was found at the centre of the dam ” as early as Friday.

Emergency repair equipment could not be used as the subsidence worsened.

“It remains unclear what caused the dam to subside in some places and develop cracks,” a Korea Western Power spokesman told AFP.

The 410-megawatt capacity plant was supposed to start commercial operations by 2019.

The project consists of a series of dams over the Houay Makchanh, the Xe-Namnoy and the Xe-Pian rivers.

AFP