Speaking at the end of a four-day visit to Nigeria, the United Nations expert on internally displaced persons (IPDs) has called on the country’s authorities and the international community to act urgently to ensure that the hundreds of thousands of displaced people in its northeast are protected.
“The situation must no longer be downplayed and it is not too late to save many lives,” the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of IDPs, Chaloka Beyani, said in news release issued by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
“The Government must act urgently to ensure that food, shelter, medical care, water, sanitation and other essential services reach IDPs without delay,” he added.
The Special Rapporteur also expressed concern at the lack of international attention and resources to meet the needs in the region, and called on donors to provide support to meet immediate needs as well as to enhance their long-term support in the region.
According to a recent report by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Children on the Move, Children Left Behind, in addition to 2.6 million people currently displaced in the Lake Chad region because of the violence, some 2.2 million people are feared to be trapped in areas under the control of Boko Haram and need humanitarian assistance.
The OHCHR news release noted that the situation resulting from the Boko Haram violence, as well as Nigerian Government counter-insurgency measures, are indicative of a crisis of the highest category.
It noted that civilians, including children, leaving areas recently liberated by government forces bear the signs of advanced malnutrition and of deep trauma, while also flagging that humanitarian access is limited in some areas due to security concerns.
“Due to a gross underestimation of the crisis, the existing supplies will only cover needs for a very short period of time and will be soon outstripped by demands,” Mr. Beyani said.
He added that a vast majority of the displaced live outside camps, with little or no assistance, and that urgent steps are needed to assess their needs as well as the needs of the host communities supporting them with their own resources.
During his visit, the Special Rapporteur visited IDP camps in the north-eastern city of Maiduguri, where he said that food is scarce, medical care is insufficient and that the people are in need urgent protection, psychosocial support and counselling.
Highlighting the direness of the situation in the camps, he spoke of reports of women and girls facing demands for sex to access food or to leave the camps and that early pregnancy and marriage are commonplace.
“Many do not report abuse due to stigmatization, cultural factors and the knowledge that perpetrators can abuse with impunity,” he noted, calling for protection measures to be stepped-up and camps to be quickly placed under trained civilian management to prevent abuses.
The OHCHR news release also noted positive measures taken by the government, including a plan for rehabilitating northeast Nigeria and the establishment of oversight systems by the Parliament.
A full report of the Special Rapporteur along with his recommendations will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in June next year.
Special Rapporteurs and independent experts are appointed by the Geneva-based Council to examine and report back on a specific human rights theme or a country situation. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.