By Michael Olugbode, in Maiduguri
Following the Boko Haram insurgency in the North-east, the vast majority of the 1.8 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the region are not yet ready to return home, the latest report by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) has stated.
According to the report commissioned by the NRC in partnership with REACH, the Danish Refugee Council and the Protection Cluster in Nigeria, the intentions of 27,000 people were solicited among the displaced population.
The findings of the report showed that over 80 per cent, who are unwilling to return home in the immediate future cite insecurity as the main reason for staying put with attacks against civilians on the rise and many are still scared.
The report admitted that the Nigerian military have recently gained ground in the fight against the Islamic extremist group Boko Haram but in response, the armed group has stepped up attacks on soft targets, including markets and sites sheltering displaced people.
It stated that many in Nigeria’s government are keen to see communities move back home.
Addressing a press conference on the report in Maiduguri on Wednesday, the Secretary General of NRC Jan Egeland said: “While the end game is for communities to return home, the unfortunate truth is that pushing people back now will have harmful consequences.”
Egeland said: “An overwhelming 85 per cent of the people living in formal camps tell us they feel safer there than where they were before, despite the deplorable attacks on camps.
“Today I met a woman in Monguno town who fled her village two years ago after Boko Haram set it ablaze. She’s eager to bring her six children home, but she told me it’s too soon, that the armed group are still present.”
He added that even if the security improves, half of the displaced people interviewed said their houses were destroyed in the conflict, adding that: “48 per cent of people interviewed do not have information about the current state of their homes, indicating that this figure could be much higher.”
According to him, “The findings of the report are indisputable. When 86 per cent of the people tell us they aren’t ready to go home yet, we must listen. This cannot fall on deaf ears. People must decide to return on their own free will. Coercing communities to move home is a deadly recipe set to worsen the conflict.”
The report recommended measures needed before Nigeria’s displaced can return home to include improvement in the overall security situation for communities to feel safe; resources must be channelled into rebuilding homes and re-establishing livelihoods and it is important that displaced communities are involved in developing these programmes.
Egeland said: “People need a roof over their heads and the prospect of making a living, if they are to have any chance of rebuilding their lives.”
He assured the displaced persons of NRC’s commitment to work to rebuild the North-east, adding that: “We are ready to work with the government to help displaced Nigerians return home. But movements must be voluntary, safe and informed.”