West & Central Africa

Boko Haram: the untold story of Nigeria’s refugee camps

Boko Haram has generated over a million refugees in northeastern parts of Nigeria alone and became the deadliest terror group in the world according to Global Terrorist Index 2015. This does not include the devastation suffered by Christians and some Muslims in the crises that engulfed Plateau State, a middle region state of Nigeria since 2010.

Class room at St Theresa's Camp, Yola
Open Class room at St Theresa’s Camp, Yola

The refugees are scattered over the North Eastern states and in neighbouring countries like Cameroon, Chad and Niger.

Medecins Sans Frontières (MSF) says starvation has killed at least 1, 200 children in a single camp in Bama, a local community that was besieged by Boko Haram for over 3 years until it was captured by Nigerian soldier earlier this year.

When Global Christian News visited one of the camps in Yola, about 2 hours drive to Bama, the squalor and smell from the sanitary condition was appalling.

“Just look around and you do not need an expert to see what is happening,” said a senior official from the Federal Medical Centre, Yola, who declined to be named. He pointed to corruption and mismanagement in the camps in spite of funds which have been pouring in to assist refugees. 

A Tent housing refugees
A Tent housing refugees

The camps funded and managed by the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) in Borno and Adamawa States have some basic facilities and relief material, yet lack the capacity to take in more refugees. While other camps organised either by Church groups or other NGOs lack the basic facilities to meet up with the health needs, food and water. Children and pregnant women have become very vulnerable. Assistance from WHO, UNICEF and MSF are stretched by returning refugees from Cameroon, Niger and Chad.

Global Christian News visited the camps set by NEMA in Yola which has a mixture of both Christian and Muslim refugees. Christians in the camp complained of discrimination by camp officials. ‘Mary’ (not her real name because sh/e is afraid of reprisal) said, “Muslims will insult us in the camps and will always fight in the queues for any commodities being distributed. Some of the Muslim youths are not refugees but will leave their homes in the town and come and live in the camps because there is free food. The hall which we used as a Church was taken by the camp officials and used to house more refugees but they use their mosque in the camp for their own prayers and many Christians have left to stay with any known relative.”

Children feeding at St. Theresa's Refugee Camp, Yola
Malnutrition claims over 200 lives of children in refugee camps in northeastern Nigeria

A kitchen attendant in the camp, speaking on the agreement of anonymity said, “We don’t discriminate whether you are Christian or Muslim, we give food to everyone. Some of the Christians left the camp because they said they are afraid of some of the Muslims youths they moved into the camp with and suspected they used to be Boko Haram.”

Camp authorities denied the allegations and claimed they were running the camps effectively. 

In one of the evenings outside the Church of the Brethren (EYN) camp in Yola, Global Christian News met two teenage girls who said were out ‘seeking for work’. We discovered then that prostitution has proliferated in the camps and men from the city in Yola and would come in the night to pick up teenagers and women. 

Ali Takudo, a refugee said: “Some of the girls have no parents, they were killed by Boko Haram, the girls are in the camp with no one to look after them everyone is to himself, yes so they go to men to get money to feed, to food in the camp is poor and not enough, they are girls and some need toiletries, who gives them money?” Ali Takudo, one of the refugees and a father of six told Global Christian News.