About 133 Nigerian refugees comprising mostly women and children who fled Nigeria for Cameroon in the wake of the Boko Haram insurgence in the northeast have returned to the country.
The returnees touched down at the Yola International Airport aboard the Nigerian Air Force C130 at about 5:00 pm on Thursday.
They were accompanied by officials of the National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons, UNHCR, IOM, NAPTIP, security agencies and other humanitarian organisations.
Upon their arrival, they were taken to a facility within the Yola International Airport where food was provided for them before going through a screening process.
According to the UNHCR Representative, Roger Volo, the exercise is a voluntary repatriation because the refugees voluntarily signed to return to their ancestral homes.
Also speaking on the repatriation, the newly sworn in Minister for Humanitarian Services, Disaster Management and Internally Displaced Persons, Sadiya Faruk who was on ground to receive the refugees, assured them that government will take care of their welfare.
There are about 97,000 Nigerians taking refuge in Cameroon out of which 8,000 are from Adamawa state while the rest are indigenes of Borno and Yobe State.
According to the Minister, the evacuation of the refugees will continue until all those who are willing to return are brought back home.
Narrating her ordeal, one of the returnees, Amina Saidu, lamented that while in Cameroon, she and her family had to endure so much hardship.
“We were in Cameroon for five years but I left my husband there because he wanted to harvest his farm before returning home in the next batch.
“While in Cameroon we suffered, we didn’t have water and we suffered a lot to fetch fire wood for our cooking. Whenever they give us food, we eat half of it while we sell the other half to meet our other needs. We were not given other condiments except salt, so we need money to buy other food items.
“We are very happy to be back home. We thank God and also the government for bringing us back home,” she said.
The Adamawa State Governor who was represented by the Secretary to the State Government, Basir Ahmed, said he was delighted about their return.
More than 400,000 people have been displaced by air raids in northwestern Syria over the past three months, the UN said Friday, as its human rights chief condemned “international indifference” over a mounting civilian death toll.
“Airstrikes kill and maim significant numbers of civilians several times a week, and the response seems to be a collective shrug,” UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet said in a statement.
The jihadist-dominated Idlib region is supposed to be protected by a months-old international truce deal, but has faced growing bombardment by the government and its ally Russia since late April.
The spike in violence has killed more than 740 civilians, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Aid groups have described the latest bloody episode of Syria’s eight-year civil war as a “nightmare”.
More than 400,000 people have fled violence in the area since the end of April, said David Swanson of the United Nations’ humanitarian coordination office OCHA.
He spoke to AFP as regime air raids pummelled a market in the Idlib province town of Saraqib, the second attack on the same market this week, according to the Observatory.
The Britain-based monitor said one civilian was killed and several others were wounded there on Friday, four days after a similar attack killed more than seven.
It said two other civilians were killed and 20 others were wounded in regime attacks elsewhere in the region.
An AFP photographer in Saraqib saw broken styrofoam crates, fruits and vegetables scattered on the dusty concrete floor near wrecked vegetable trucks.
“The al-Hal market is one of the main commercial hubs of the town,” Layth al-Abdullah, a rescue worker in the town, told AFP.
He said the regime had shown “barbarity… in its killing of civilians and the destruction of their property.”
Bachelet warned of continued regime attacks against schools, hospitals, markets and bakeries in the Idlib region.
“These are civilian objects, and it seems highly unlikely, given the persistent pattern of such attacks, that they are all being hit by accident,” she said in a statement.
“Intentional attacks against civilians are war crimes, and those who have ordered them or carried them out are criminally responsible for their actions.”
The region under attack is home to some three million people, nearly half of them already displaced from other parts of the country.
It covers nearly all of Idlib and parts of neighbouring Aleppo, Hama, and Latakia provinces.
Most of the displacement is from southern Idlib and northern Hama, the two areas that have been hit hardest by the flare-up, OCHA said.
“The majority of those fleeing have displaced within Idlib governorate while a smaller number have moved into northern Aleppo governorate.
“Roughly two-thirds of people displaced are staying outside camps,” it said.
Approximately 100 schools in Idlib are now hosting displaced people, OCHA said.
Many are forced to live in the open air because of overcrowding in camps and reception centres, it added.
Schools and Hospitals
The Idlib region is controlled by jihadist alliance Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, led by Al-Qaeda’s former Syria affiliate.
A September accord struck between Moscow and Ankara was supposed to spare the region the bloodshed of a government assault, but it was never fully implemented as jihadists refused to withdraw from a planned buffer zone.
Instead, pro-government forces have since increased the intensity of their bombardment in recent weeks.
Airstrikes by the government and its Russian ally killed 12 civilians in the region on Thursday, according to the Observatory.
Another 50 civilians were killed in strikes on Monday alone — the majority on a busy market, the monitor said.
OCHA described Monday as one of the “deadliest days” in the region since the start of the flare-up.
It said that since the end of April it had documented 39 attacks against health facilities or medical workers in the region.
At least 50 schools have been damaged by the airstrikes and shelling, it added.
The war in Syria has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since it started in 2011 with a brutal crackdown on anti-government protests.
The United Nations High Commissioner For Refugees (UNHCR) has called for additional efforts from states and the Federal Government to alleviate the sufferings of Nigerian refugees in neighbouring countries as well as Internally Displaced Persons living in camps across Nigeria.
Speaking at a news conference ahead of the 2019 International Day for Refugees in Abuja, the country’s representative for the UN agency, Antonio Canhandula, noted that recent crisis in Zamfara and Sokoto States have swelled the numbers of Nigerian refugees in Niger and Cameroon.
According to him, there is an urgent need to improve the quality of response to the IDPs.
He also maintained that its time for countries that are a signatory to the Kampala Convention to domesticate the terms of 2009 agreement, which seeks to protect the rights of refugees and IDPs.
Conflict forced more than 10 million people to flee their homes to live elsewhere within their own country last year, bringing the total number of people internally displaced by violence to a record high, monitors said on Friday.
The new figure brings the total number of people currently living in internal displacement due to violence to 41.3 million, an all-time high, according to a report by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) and the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC).
“It is really a mind-boggling figure,” NRC chief Jan Egeland told reporters in Geneva.
“It takes extreme violence and fear of disasters to force a family out of their home, their land, their property, their community,” he stressed.
Including those uprooted from their homes by natural disasters as well as conflicts, a total of 28 million people were displaced internally in 2018, the report said.
A full 10.8 million of new internally displaced people (IDPs) last year were fleeing conflict, with strife in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Syria, as well as intercommunal tensions in Ethiopia, Cameroon and Nigeria responsible for most of the displacements, the study said.
The number of people currently living as IDPs is far higher than the some 25 million who have fled across borders as refugees.
Countries with the most IDPs
Surprisingly perhaps, the report found that the highest number of new internal displacements last year was in Ethiopia, with a full 2.9 million people fleeing their homes inside the East African country, where communal clashes, typically sparked by land disputes, are common.
Strife-torn DRC came in second, with 1.8 million fresh IDPs in 2018, followed by Syria with 1.6 million new internal displacements.
But in total, Syria, ravaged by eight years of war, counts 6.1 million IDPs, in addition to around the same number of Syrians still living as refugees.
On top of those forced from their homes by violence, 17.2 million people were internally displaced by natural disasters last year, Friday’s report found.
Tropical cyclones and monsoon floods forced nearly 10 million to flee inside the Philippines, China and India.
IDMC chief Alexandra Bilak told reporters that most of those displacements were linked to government-orchestrated evacuations ahead of natural disasters.
“This of course saves lives, but demonstrates that there are still too many people in those countries who are exposed to extreme events,” she said.
Hundreds of thousands of people were also forced from their homes in California last year by the most destructive wildfires in the state’s history.
Some 22,000 people remain displaced by those fires, Bilak said.
The REC said people in Abadam and Kukawa Local Government Areas (LGAs) would vote in designated centres in Maiduguri.
He added that those in Guzamala and Marte would cast their votes in Monguno LGA, just as Kalabalge locals would vote in Gamboru Ngala as against Rann.
According to him, all other electorates in the remaining 22 local governments would vote at their local units or the LGA headquarters as the case may be.
The REC explained that this was the unanimous decision of stakeholders in the respective LGAs, as a result of the high number of voters residing in the respective areas.
Some of the displaced people were hopeful that they would encounter less stress in the course of the exercise, compared with their experiences in the 2015 elections.
Elsewhere, the Borno State Police Command said it has deployed 11,000 personnel on election duties across the state.
The Commissioner of Police, Damian Chukwu, noted that the National Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), as well as other sister agencies, have provided personnel to support the police for the assignment.
He said the security operatives would escort electoral materials to voting points across the state and maintain law and order at all polling units in line with the laws of the land.
Panicking internally displaced persons (IDPs) are fleeing Rann after partner countries of the Multinational Joint Task Force withdrew from the Borno community, leaving only the Nigerian Army in charge of their security.
The Theatre Commander of the Operation Lafiya Dole, Major General Benson Akinroluyo, told journalists after a meeting with the state Governor, Kashim Shettima on Monday that the news of the withdrawal had caused apprehension among the people.
“Rann is not dislodged, it is just that our counterparts from the other countries withdrew and our troops are the only ones there; people are apprehensive,” he said.
The United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria, Mr Edward Kallon, says tens of thousands of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) are still in desperate need of humanitarian aid (shelter, food, water and sanitation).
He said this in a statement issued on Wednesday while lamenting over what he described as an upsurge in violence in the country’s north-east that has caused many innocent civilians to flee their homes.
According to Kallon, clashes on December 26, 2018, between the military and insurgents in Baga town of Maiduguri, Borno State, triggered a massive displacement, with most women, men and children converging on already congested camps or sites for IDPs in Maiduguri or Monguno town.
A subsequent attempted attack on Monguno on December 28, 2018, according to Kallon, exacerbated the situation, generating further displacement amid the uncertainty caused by the clashes.
“The impact of the recent fighting on innocent civilians is devastating and has created a humanitarian tragedy,” said Mr. Kallon, after a visit to Monguno and to Teachers Village camp for internally displaced people in Maiduguri.
“It is heart-wrenching to see so many of these people living in congested camps, or sleeping outside with no shelter.
“Civilians continue to bear the brunt of the conflict and the United Nations is extremely concerned about the impact that violence in north-east Nigeria, especially in Borno State, is having on civilians.”
Kallon also stated that some 260 aid workers have been withdrawn from three Local Government Areas namely: Monguno, Kala/Balge and Kukawa affected by the conflict since November, a situation which he says has affected the delivery of humanitarian assistance to the thousands of displaced persons.
Although he says aid workers have started returning to some areas to respond to the urgent, life-saving needs, the lack of a secure operating environment is preventing a return to normal humanitarian activities.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) there is no provision made for any Nigerian outside the country to vote in the general elections in 2019.
INEC National Commissioner and Chairman of Information and Voter Education Committee, Mr Festus Okoye, made the clarification in a statement on Thursday.
He said, “The commission wishes to state unequivocally that there will be no Diaspora or Out-of-Country voting for any Nigerian, in accordance extant provisions of the Nigerian Constitution 1979 (as amended).”
“Only duly registered Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) within Nigerians will be allowed to vote.”
Mr Okoye issued the statement in reaction to reports that the electoral umpire has made special provisions for IDPs in the diaspora to vote in the forthcoming polls.
With 64 days to the elections, the INEC National Commissioner asked Nigerians to disregard the report, saying it was capable of misinforming the public.
He, however, explained that the framework and regulations for IDP voting were presented and validated by stakeholders at a conference held in Abuja on November 12 this year.
Okoye stated that there was no reference in the remarks made by the INEC Chairman, Professor Yakubu Mahmood, that at the meeting that special provisions would be made for those outside the country to vote in the elections.