Category Archives: Humanitarian Issues

Thousands of Nigerians flee to Chad to escape Boko Haram

Mail and Guardian

A refugee camp in Chad has provided temporary sanctuary for thousands of fleeing Nigerians.

Traumatised but safe: Hammah Aminu, aged 20 (above) is among more than 4?000 people who have sought refuge from Boko Haram at the Dar es Salaam refugee camp in Chad. (Lauren Clifford-Holmes)

“I saw Boko Haram with my own eyes and I saw the bodies. If I think about the corpses, I will cry.”

These are the words of 12-year-old Tahiru Abakhar whose family was attacked by Boko Haram in Baga and again hounded by the Islamist group in other towns until they fled to neighbouring Chad.

“After Boko Haram attacked us in Baga, we fled to Doro. Then Boko Haram followed us and attacked there. Then we escaped from Doro to the river and came to Ngouboua with a little boat. Then they attacked at Ngouboua and then we fled to Dar?es??Salaam [a Chadian refugee camp],” Tahiru explains.

In January thousands of Nigerians made their way to Ngouboua, a fishing village on Lake Chad. But they found little peace. Ngouboua was attacked by Boko Haram on February 13.

This was the militant group’s first breach of Chad’s border. Reports put the number of dead between 10 and 13 and aerial photographs showed a large portion of the town’s homes burned down.

Passing through Ngouboua recently, it was hard not to see and feel the loss. Many lost all their belongings in the blaze. Soot-covered houses were too numerous to count. Blackened clothes are melted together in the hot sand, cooking pots strewn in the ruins.

Following the attack on Ngouboua, the Chadian government, with the assistance of the United Nations refugee agency and partners, started moving Nigerian refugees to a camp named Dar es Salaam at Baga Sola.

An estimated 7 000 people are stuck on the islands in Lake Chad and more are awaiting assistance and transportation from Ngouboua.

Quest to launch an Islamic state
The Baga attack on January?3, which was recorded as Boko Haram’s most violent, attracted perhaps the most media coverage since the jihadist group launched its attacks in 2009 in its quest to create an Islamic state. This, and its subsequent strikes on surrounding areas, has resulted in an estimated 170 000 people fleeing to neighbouring countries to seek safety.

Until January, the majority of refugees fled to Cameroon and Niger, but there has now been a sustained influx into Chad.

Boko Haram’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, has already declared war on Chad in a video released in January shortly after Chad joined a military coalition to fight the insurgents. He also denounced Chad’s President Idriss Déby.

Chad formed a military alliance in January with Nigeria, Niger and Cameroon, aimed at defeating Boko Haram. Chad’s 20 000-strong army is the most effective in the region. It claims to have inflicted heavy losses on Boko Haram inside Nigeria.

Peace at Dar es Salaam
Families and children who have gone through terrifying ordeals are filling up Dar es Salaam. Conditions are not easy but there is a sense of safety. A heavy contingent of joint military forces police the camp precinct where 4 000 mostly Nigerians have taken refuge since it was opened in mid-January.

The sun bakes down on the white plastic UN tents as people try to go about a normal life. Groups gather, squatting in the sand, as they cook the limited food, mostly rice, available to them.

Children collect firewood and others help their mothers pump water at one of the boreholes, filling bright yellow containers. Mothers bathe their children, balancing them on pieces of cardboard to keep them from sitting in the sand. Inside the tents there is little or no furniture. Only blankets are laid out on reed mats.

There is much sorrow in the newly found peace; few families at Dar?es??Salaam have arrived as a unit. Most are fragmented, having been separated from one another during the attacks.

Chaos in the night
From the accounts of those in the camps, Boko Haram prefers night attacks during which, under the cover of darkness and in the ensuing chaos, wives and husbands are separated and children get lost in the rush to safety.

Twenty-year-old Hammah Aminu has been in Dar es Salaam camp for two months. Her husband wasn’t home when Boko Haram entered her hometown of Doro and she ended up fleeing with her brothers. She was separated from them and is now feeling very alone at the camp.

“I have heard that my husband is in Maiduguri [in Nigeria] and I want to meet him, but I have no way to go there. I have lost many things when I left; I lost my telephones and my clothes and food,” she says, crying with her hands over her eyes.

But some say they have good endings to their horror.

When Boko Haram attacked Doro, nine-year-old Habiba Idris lost sight of her parents and her six brothers and sisters. She managed to flee across the lake with family friends.

On arriving in Ngouboua she was told that Boko Haram had probably killed her father because someone had seen him go to Dabata Amina to look for his family. Boko Haram attacked that town too.

“After I heard that I was crying,” Habiba says.

But the next morning a boy came to tell her they had seen her father in Ngouboua. It turns out he, too, had crossed the lake in the search for his family. “I said, thank God. When I saw my father I was so glad,” Habiba remembers.

Once reunited, Habiba and her father made their way to Dar?es??Salaam where they tracked down her mother and some of her siblings.

Not enough food
Aminu says food at the camp is not enough – a sentiment echoed by many other refugees. Every day portions of rice and a few other staples are dished out to families and they cook for themselves.

The local residents seem to have welcomed the refugees. The citizens of Nigeria and Chad are finding unity against their common enemy: Boko Haram.

“The population was very surprised by the arrival of so many ­refugees but they have been very fair and have been supportive. They have a moral obligation to support these people,” says Dimouya Souapebe, speaking as the local government authority in Baga Sola.

Dar es Salaam camp co-ordinator Idriss Dezeh says locals have received the Nigerian refugees with open arms. “There are even some who have donated food … they have been extraordinary.”

But the increasing number of refugees in the area is putting pressure on the local population and resources.

Souapebe acknowledges this, saying: “There can be problems with price increases and also stock levels of food and products for the local population. This is also because it is not easy to get farm produce and products to Baga Sola.”

People are scared
Sitting in a makeshift shack on the border of the lake, Muhammad Kurundu, a metal worker in Baga Sola, says his business has suffered since the refugees started arriving in the area.

“Before the refugees came, people bought a lot of things. But since the refugees arrived, everyone is scared and staying in their villages and don’t want to come to the market.

“The people are scared because Boko Haram want to attack and kill them. All the routes are blocked, they are afraid of being burned or assassinated or have their throats slit on the way,” says Kurundu.

Shop owner Ali Abdullah says that since the refugees arrived the sale of clothing and shoes is not good, but the sale of his foodstuffs, such as sugar, maize, rice and tea is going well.

“Since the refugees arrived, the sale of consumables is good, but all the routes are blocked. We can’t go to Nigeria or Cameroon [to buy products] … our products can only come from N’Djamena [Chad’s capital] or Libya.”

With Nigeria’s pending election on March 28, few are hopeful of going home. For them, neither President Goodluck Jonathan nor his rival Muhammadu Buhari have the will to tackle Boko Haram, which they say will continue its reign of terror even after the poll.

The implication for neighbouring Chad then is that more refugees may be coming their way.


Kenyatta apologises to vitims of Kenyan state violence and starts PEV victims’ fund

The Star (Nairobi)

I’m sorry, Uhuru tells victims of violence

 
INSTRUMENT: TJRC Report

INSTRUMENT: TJRC Report

BY FELIX OLICK

March 27, 2015

PRESIDENT Uhuru Kenyatta has made a public apology for all State injustices committed since Independence.

He also announced a Sh10 billion Restorative Justice Fund for victims of the 2007 post-election bloodletting. An estimated 1,500 people were killed and 650,000 displaced.

In a bold move, Uhuru asked for forgiveness from victims of gross violations committed by the past three regimes, including the massacres of the post-poll violence of 2007 in which he later was named a suspect.

“To move forward as one nation, I stand before you today on my own behalf, that of my government and all past governments, to offer the sincere apology of the Government of the Republic of Kenya to all our compatriots for all past wrongs,” the Head of State said in his State of the Nation address yesterday.

“I seek your forgiveness and may God give us the grace to draw on the lessons of this history to unite as a people and, together, to embrace our future as one people and one nation.”

Uhuru’s apology sets the stage for the implementation of the explosive Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) Report that has been gathering dust since May 2013.

It was the first report of a commission of enquiry that he received as President. The report recommended that the sitting President apologises for State –sponsored violations of rights between December 12, 1963 and February 28, 2008.

In his speech to a joint sitting of the bicameral Parliament yesterday, Uhuru disclosed that he has instructed Treasury to establish a Sh10 billion Restorative Justice Fund that will be rolled out in the next three years.

“This will provide a measure of relief and will underscore my government’s goodwill. I have also established a State Department dedicated to strategic initiatives in marginalised and at-risk regions and populations of our country,” he said.

In what may cause fresh ripples within elite political circles, the President asked the National Assembly to immediately kick off the process of implementing the TJRC Report.

“Their Report is before this House, and I urge Honourable Members to process it without undue delay,” Uhuru said.

Senior government officials and politicians are among hundreds of Kenyans recommended for prosecution in the TJRC Report.

Some of the leaders cited for investigation include former President Daniel arap Moi, ex-Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka, former ministers William ole Ntimama, Nicholas Biwott, Henry Kosgey, Sally Kosgei, Beth Mugo, Franklin Bett and Elizabeth Ongoro.

The report also recommended investigation of former MP Norman Nyagah over the killing of Dr Chrispine Odhiambo-Mbai in 2005.

The Truth Report also recommended that State security agencies, in particular the Kenya Police, the Kenya Defence Forces and the National Intelligence Service, also ask for forgiveness for gross violations of human rights committed by their predecessor agencies.

However, President Kenyatta dashed the hopes of victims of the 2007 post-election violence over any local trials, saying that, according to Director of Public Prosecutions Keriako Tobiko, “there are challenges to obtaining successful prosecutions”.

“These challenges range from inadequate evidence, inability to identity perpetrators, witnesses fears of reprisals, and a general lack of technical and forensic capacity at the time,” he said.

The President regretted the electoral violence that has periodically hit Kenya over the years, saying the mayhem reached a crescendo in 2007.

“Collectively, these incidents have disunited us and held our people hostage to this tragic history by providing the foundation and rationale for the cynical and destructive politics of hate and division.”

– See more at: http://www.the-star.co.ke/news/im-sorry-uhuru-tells-victims-violence#sthash.lV64R0Kh.dpuf

Nigeria – troops from Chad and Niger drive Boko Haram from villages

Reuters

Niger, Chad troops pursue Boko Haram in Nigerian border area

Thu Mar 26, 2015 2:47pm GMT

DIFFA, Niger (Reuters) – Troops from Chad and Niger pursued Boko Haram fighters across a northern Nigeria border area on Thursday, driving them out of a village they held there and causing some to flee into Niger, two senior Niger military officers said.

Niger and Chad are participating in a joint offensive along with Nigeria and Cameroon aimed at ending the Nigerian Islamist group’s six-year insurgency, which has spilled across Nigeria’s borders to threaten regional stability.

A column of troops left the Nigerian town of Damasak, which was retaken from the militants earlier this month, in the morning to capture the Boko Haram-occupied village of Gasheger, the sources said.

A Reuters witness across the border in the nearby Nigerien town of Diffa, which has served as a staging area for the operations, heard explosions around midday as the sources said the coalition troops met resistance from the Islamists.

“We took back Gasheger,” one of the officers told Reuters.

During the clashes, Boko Haram fighters fired a mortar that landed in the village of Kalgueri, killing one woman, the sources said.

After being driven from Gasheger, some Boko Haram fighters fled across the Komadougou River into the town of Guesseri in Niger where soldiers from Niger’s elite American-trained anti-terrorist unit pursued them.

“More than 100 fighters were in Gasheger. They’re now in an area with a lot of trees,” the second source said.

The regional offensive launched this year comes as Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country and biggest economy, prepares to hold elections on Saturday. Nigeria’s elections commission postponed the polls to allow the operation to go forward.

The offensive has succeeded in driving Boko Haram from several towns and districts. But retreating Islamist fighters have slaughtered civilians and kidnapped hundreds of villagers, according to witnesses and residents.

Nigeria denies 500 people kidnapped by Boko Haram

BBC

Nigeria denies Boko Haram seized 500 children

  • 25 March 2015
Nigerien soldiers patrol on foot in the recently recaptured northern town of Damasak on 24 March 2015
Damasak is reportedly under the control of troops from neighbouring Niger

Nigeria’s government has denied that militant Islamist group Boko Haram abducted 500 children from the north-eastern town of Damasak.

A former resident said on Tuesday that the militants had taken away about 500 boys when they fled the town earlier this month.

Government spokesman Mike Omeri said the number was lower, but he could not say exactly how many had been seized.

Regional forces recaptured Damasak, a trading town, earlier in March.

Mr Omeri said that the militants released some women and children when they fled the town, but not those “they had married in the period of occupation”.

The militants were using them as “protection” and the government had ordered “full military intervention” to secure their release, he said.

Damasak is in Borno state near Niger’s border and is about 200km (120 miles) from the state’s main city of Maiduguri.

A girl drinks water as women queue for blankets and food given out by Nigerien soldiers in Damasak on 24 March 2015
Damasak residents lived under Boko Haram’s rule until regional troops regain control of the town
This screen grab taken on 25 September 2013 from a video distributed through an intermediary to local reporters and seen by AFP, shows a man claiming to be the leader of Nigerian Islamist extremist group Boko Haram Abubakar Shekau, flanked by armed men.
Boko Haram’s leaders said kidnapped women had been “married” to militants

Damasak businessman Malam Ali, whose brother is among those missing, told the BBC Hausa Service on Tuesday that young boys had been put in a madrassa, or Islamic school, by Boko Haram when they took over the town at the end of last year.

Following the recapture of the town, those boys, numbering about 500, had not been accounted for, he said, while Reuters news agency quoted residents as saying more than 400 women and children had been abducted.

Chibok girls

BBC Nigeria correspondent Will Ross says the conflict has torn many families apart.

As towns have changed hands it has been impossible to work out how many people have been killed and how many are missing, he adds.

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Map

Is the tide turning against Boko Haram?

Regional force tackles militants

Is Islamic State shaping Boko Haram media?

Who are Boko Haram?

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Last week, the decomposing bodies of more than 70 people were discovered under a bridge near Damasak.

Nigeria’s military has still failed to free more than 200 girls abducted more than a year ago from Chibok, also in Borno state.

The abductions caused international outrage, and foreign governments promised to help Nigeria ‘s military find the girls.

Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau has said the girls have been married off.

The group has waged a six-year insurgency in Nigeria to create an Islamic state, killing thousands of people and capturing many towns and villages.

Regional forces launched an offensive about six weeks ago to regain territory ahead of delayed presidential and parliamentary elections, now due on Saturday.

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Boko Haram at a glance:

Wanted poster for Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau in Maiduguri, Nigeria - May 2013
  • Founded in 2002, initially focused on opposing Western-style education
  • Boko Haram means “Western education is forbidden” in the Hausa language
  • Launched military operations in 2009 to create an Islamic state
  • Thousands killed, mostly in north-eastern Nigeria
  • Has also attacked police and UN headquarters in capital, Abuja
  • Abducted hundreds, including at least 200 schoolgirls
  • Pledged allegiance to Islamic State

Slow start revives doubts about DR Congo campaign against Rwandan rebels

Reuters

Sun Mar 22, 2015

By Aaron Ross

KASHUGA, Democratic Republic of Congo (Reuters) – The government soldiers manning an outpost high above the town of Kashuga have a panoramic view of the hills and valleys of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, home to hundreds of Rwandan Hutu rebels their government has promised to crush.

    But three weeks after Congo’s army launched an offensive against the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), the outpost’s commander has received no orders to attack the rebel group.

Just a few hundred metres away across the Mweso River are the hills where the rebels – whose 1,400 fighters include the remnants of militia involved in Rwanda’s 1994 genocide –

have their hideouts, local people say.

    “There is no war,” said the commander of the hill-top camp, a huddle of tents where soldiers drift around aimlessly. “Here, near us, there are no operations.”

    The faltering start to the highly-anticipated campaign in North Kivu province has revived doubts about the will and capacity of Congo’s army to defeat a group at the heart of two decades of conflict in Africa’s Great Lakes region.

    Many analysts believe that defeating the FDLR is critical to breaking a catastrophic cycle of violence in eastern Congo, whose rich deposits of gold, tin and tantalum and vast ungoverned spaces have invited meddling by its more powerful neighbours.

    Since fleeing into eastern Congo after the genocide, FDLR gunmen have waged periodic war with the government and other armed groups. Their presence on Congolese soil has served as pretext for a series of military interventions by Rwanda.

    The rebels portray themselves as defenders of Hutu refugees in Congo and say they wish to return to Rwanda through a negotiated settlement with Kigali. The U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo (MONUSCO) says that their covert purpose appears to be the overthrow of the Rwandan government.

    Millions died of conflict, hunger and disease during a 1998 to 2003 war in Congo, fuelled by Rwandan intervention, and the region remains plagued by dozens of armed militias.

    Previous campaigns against the FDLR, including operations in 2009 backed by Rwandan and U.N. forces, weakened but failed to dismantle the group.

 

TOWNS RECAPTURED

The army commander in eastern Congo, General Leon Mushale, says it has recovered more than two dozen towns since late February. He said about 182 FDLR fighters have either surrendered, been killed or captured.

    Yet farmers along the road to Kashuga said the FDLR acts with impunity, descending on their fields in gangs of up to 50 to extort food and transport. The army, meanwhile, has announced the capture of only one senior rebel leader.

    The slow progress has reinforced doubts among many analysts about the government’s will to take on the group. Reports by U.N. panels of experts have documented commercial ties between FARDC elements and the FDLR. The two forces have also collaborated in the past against Rwandan-backed rebels.

    The Enough Project, an advocacy group, has estimated that the FDLR earns more than $30 million a year from the illicit charcoal trade. The group is also involved in the smuggling of gold and other minerals and receives financing from overseas networks, according to the U.N. experts.

    “Senior members of the security establishment have not been entirely cooperative – let’s put it that way – with the operations and still maintain contacts with FDLR leadership,” said Jason Stearns, director of the Congo Research Group at New York University and a former U.N. expert in Congo.

    Fidel Bafilemba, a researcher for Enough in the lakeside capital of North Kivu province, Goma, said the FDLR is politically useful for Congo President Joseph Kabila.

    “The policy is to keep the FDLR as long as possible in eastern Congo because if it’s gone Kabila himself will no longer have an alibi to not provide the basics to his people – water, education, food, security,” he said.

Kabila came to power in 2001 following the assassination of his father and went on to win disputed elections in 2006 and 2011.

He is barred by the constitution from standing for a third elected term in an election scheduled for next year, but critics suspect him of seeking to prolong his time in office, provoking violent protests in January that killed at least 40 people.

The Rwandan-backed M23 rebellion, which waged an insurrection for two years before reaching a peace agreement with the government in 2013, previously posed the biggest security threat in the east.

During the conflict, the U.N. Group of Experts documented low-level collaboration between the Congolese army and FDLR.

    BOOTS ON THE GROUND

    Logistical challenges could also be slowing progress in the current campaign. The army is fighting without the support of MONUSCO after a row over suspected rights abuses by two Congolese commanders led the United Nations to suspend involvement.

    U.N. officials said their logistical support, ranging from millions of pounds of rations to thousands of gallons of fuel, is crucial.

    “The Congolese have pushed the FDLR back out of certain areas,” a senior U.N. Security Council diplomat said. “But in the absence of MONUSCO support are they going to be able to sustain it for more than a couple of weeks?”

    The army insists it has adequate provisions and attributes the slow pace on the ground to the challenges of fighting an enemy deeply embedded in local communities.

    But a police officer said soldiers operating in Rutshuru territory were being forced to pull back from combat zones to larger towns at night for lack of supplies, leaving the population vulnerable to reprisals by the rebels.

    “In the past, there have been (logistical) improvements, but I think there are still concerns that they’re not fully able to support their troops in the field,” said Daniel Fahey, who served as coordinator of the U.N. panel of experts last year.

    With the FDLR’s fighters mostly avoiding combat and instead retreating deeper into eastern Congo’s dense forests, the army says it is methodically squeezing the enemy.

    One army source, who asked not to be named, said that when his unit assaulted a refugee camp in northern Masisi this month, FDLR fighters hid among the civilian population.

    “The fighters fled first, then their families,” he said. “We couldn’t attack their families so we just left a few observers behind.”

    The limited operation thus far has spared the region the humanitarian crisis witnessed during the 2009 offensives, which displaced around a million people.

    Rwanda, which has cited the threat of the Hutu rebels to justify a series of incursions into Congolese territory and railed against delays in launching the latest operation earlier this year, has remained mostly silent since fighting began late last month.

   But some residents fear the tepid campaign might leave them in the worst possible situation – facing an angry and vengeful, but not substantially weakened, FDLR.

    In Mweso, where the senior FDLR commander was arrested, many locals said that they were facing blowback, including pillaging and threats over alleged collaboration with the army.

    Theopil Bahati, a resident, said he welcomed the operations but had learned from past experience not to get his hopes up: “I don’t think this will be the end of the FDLR.”

Cameroon – 15 kidnapped by gunmen in eastern region

Reuters

(Reuters) – At least 15 people, including a mayor and local government officials, were kidnapped by unknown gunmen in eastern Cameroon near the restive border region with Central African Republic, authorities said on Friday.

The delegation, which included local councillors, was returning from a funeral on Thursday night when they were attacked near Garoua-Boulai, about 600 km (373 miles) northeast of the capital Yaounde.

Samuel Ivaha Diboua, governor of Cameroon’s Eastern Region, said in a statement that everything was being done to free the hostages.

The victims were taken across the border into Central African Republic, one of the three members of the delegation to escape told officials.

Armed rebel groups from Central African Republic have carried out similar types of raids since their country descended into chaos in March 2013 after the Seleka rebel group seized power.

(Reporting by Anne Mireille Nzouankeu and David Wanedam; Writing by Bate Felix; Editing by Daniel Flynn)

Nigeria-Boko Haram: 70 bodies found at Damasak

BBC

Boko Haram crisis: At least 70 bodies found in Nigerian town

Chadian soldiers drive in the recently retaken town of Damasak, Nigeria, 18 March 2015. Chadian and Niger troops liberated Damasak, which is near the border with Niger, on Saturday

At least 70 bodies have been found dumped outside the town of Damasak in north-eastern Nigeria, after it was recaptured from Boko Haram militants.

The victims appear to have been killed some time ago, as the bodies were partially mummified by the desert air.

Troops from Niger and Chad seized Damasak on Saturday, ending months of control by the Islamist militants.

Earlier, Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan predicted Boko Haram would lose all territory within a month.

“They are getting weaker and weaker by the day,” he told the BBC on Friday.

President Goodluck Jonathan: “I’m very hopeful that it will not take us more than a month to recover the old territories”

Damasak is a trading town in Borno state near Niger’s border and is about 200km (120 miles) from the state’s main city of Maiduguri.

It was overrun by the militants, who began their insurgency in 2009 to create an Islamic state, at the end of last year.

Many of those found in Damasak had had their throats slits and some had been decapitated. It is not yet known who the victims were.

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Chadian army Col Azem Bermandoa Agouna told AFP news agency that he had seen “about 100 bodies spread under a bridge just outside the town”.

Together with the Nigerian army, forces from Chad, Niger and Cameroon are involved in an offensive against the Islamist insurgents who began taking over territory about a year ago – after being pushed out of their base in Maiduguri.

Nigeria is preparing to hold presidential elections on 28 March after security concerns led to a postponement of the original date in mid-February.

‘Under-rated external influence’

President Jonathan’s government has been heavily criticised for its failure to end the six-year insurgency in the north-east.

He admitted that the government has been surprised by the group’s progress.

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Boko Haram at a glance:

Wanted poster for Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau in Maiduguri, Nigeria - May 2013
  • Founded in 2002, initially focused on opposing Western-style education – Boko Haram means “Western education is forbidden” in the Hausa language
  • Launched military operations in 2009 to create an Islamic state
  • Thousands killed, mostly in north-eastern Nigeria – has also attacked police and UN headquarters in capital, Abuja
  • Abducted hundreds, including at least 200 schoolgirls