The suffering of displaced women and children

Agenzia Fides – the News Agency for the Vatican Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples – is reporting from Abuja, Nigeria, that over recent months the violence of the Islamist Boko Haram group has intensified in the northeast of Nigeria and along the border area with Cameroon, Chad and Niger, causing a serious increase in the number of refugees and internally displaced persons. Women and children are the most affected victims. Since December 2015, it is estimated that the number of displaced people in the three countries has doubled, while in Nigeria there are nearly 3 million people displaced by the violence and another 2 million and 200 thousand have sought refuge in neighbouring countries. Hunger and malnutrition have increased, over 5 million people have nothing to eat. In some areas malnutrition rates exceed the emergency threshold set by the World Health Organization.

To try to combat the problem, the World Food Programme (WFP), has pledged to increase aid in the basin of Lake Chad. In northern Nigeria, especially in Borno and Yobe States, the situation is alarming, the rate of acute malnutrition is above the national average. Moreover, the number of children who go to school has dropped from nearly half a million to 130,000. In Chad, in the Yokua region, 80,000 people have been forced to abandon the islands of Lake Chad due to the attacks and threats committed by Boko Haram and now live in very harsh conditions, in desolate fields of sand dunes. In the Moboko, Cameroon region, more than a third of the population suffers from hunger. More than 70% of farmers have abandoned their lands. (Agenzia Fides 11/04/2016)

At the same time as this displacement of the civilian population in Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Nigeria, the commander of a splinter group of Boko Haram – Ansaru – is reported captured by the Nigerian military, though others have denied that this is so. Ansaru has, since its inception in 2012, been engaged in many high profile kidnappings of Western hostages, including British and Italian construction workers. Their stated aim is to “defend Muslims throughout all of Africa by fighting the Nigerian government and international interests.” Ansaru is described as Nigeria’s al Qaeda wing. A former US Ambassador to Nigeria wrote recently that though much smaller than Boko Haram, “Ansaru’s operatives are better educated, better trained, and much more international in outlook that those of Boko Haram.”