What next for the millions uprooted by Boko Haram? – photo essay

Over the course of nine years, the Boko Haram insurgency has fractured families and claimed lives across the Lake Chad region, causing untold suffering. Four photographers visited camps run by the Red Cross to document the impact of a conflict that has left 8 million people in dire need

Photographs: Moises Saman, Lorenzo Meloni, Newsha Tavakolian, Emin Ozmen/Magnum Photos

In Cameroon, a family dreams of the thousands of cows, sheep and goats its village used to have, inherited from their forebears. They dream of going home to the village they had to flee when Boko Haram moved in.

A refugee camp for Cameroonian civilians from villages along the Nigerian border who that have been affected by armed violence.
A refugee camp for Cameroonian civilians who have been affected by armed violence. Photograph: Moises Saman/Magnum Photos
  • A refugee camp run by the run by the International Committee of the Red Cross for Cameroonian civilians who have been affected by armed violence

In Chad, cattle herders watch their animals die because they are unable to access fertile grazing on Lake Chad’s labyrinth of islands, now infiltrated by heavily armed insurgents.

Cattle at a vaccination site in Chad.
Cattle at a vaccination site in Chad. Photograph: Lorenzo Meloni/Magnum Photos

In Nigeria, a woman trying to process the year of rape and abuse she escaped learns to cope without her family in a camp run by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).Members of a displaced family who used to live on the lakeshore hear that a missing son has been seen in Niger. They have no way of contacting him.

Women widowed by the conflict register to receive economic support from the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Women widowed by the conflict register to receive economic support from the International Committee of the Red Cross, which provides small grants to help them start businesses and support their families. Photograph: Newsha Tavakolian/Magnum Photos
  • Women widowed by the conflict register to receive economic support from the ICRC

The effects of the nine-year Boko Haram insurgency reach into four countries and millions of lives, and it is by no means over.

Nigerien security forces pass near Toumor refugee camp, in south-eastern Niger where 47,000 Nigerien refugees and IDPs have taken shelter.
Nigerien security forces pass near Toumor refugee camp, in south-eastern Niger. Photograph: Emin Ozmen/Magnum Photos
  • Security forces pass near a refugee camp in south-eastern Niger, where 47,000 Nigerien refugees and people forced from their homes by conflict have taken shelter

Over and over, Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari and his generals have declared that they have “beaten”, “defeated”, “technically defeated”, “routed” and “broken the heart and soul” of Boko Haram, the militant group that has wreaked havoc in north-east Nigeria and caused millions of people to flee their homes.

In a video released recently by Abubakar Shekau, Boko Haram’s most notorious leader, he asks the Nigerian army: “If you have killed us, why are we still alive?”

Paulina, 42, was abducted by Boko Haram four months ago as she was attending her sister’s funeral.
Paulina, 42, was abducted by Boko Haram four months ago as she was attending her sister’s funeral. Photograph: Newsha Tavakolian/Magnum Photos
Women wait for food distribution in Toumour refugee camp.
Women wait for food distribution in Toumour refugee camp. Photograph: Emin Ozmen/Magnum Photos
Two men rest in a badly damaged car.
Two men rest in a badly damaged car. Photograph: Moises Saman/Magnum Photos
Two young boys play in a refugee camp in Dar es Salaam.
In Dar es Salaam, a family of refugees is reunited by the Red Cross thanks to the Reunification of Family Links programme, which uses phone calls to reunite families. Photograph: Lorenzo Meloni/Magnum Photos

More than half of the Chibok girls have been freed, as well as all but one of the 110 Dapchi girls kidnapped in February, but thousands of less high-profile abductees are still missing. Tens of thousands have been killed – the UN says at least 20,000, but that is widely held to be far below the true number.

Family members hold up photos of Paulina, 42, who was abducted four months ago during a Boko Haram attack. Since then her family have had no news of her.
Family members hold up photos of Paulina, 42, who was abducted four months ago during a Boko Haram attack. Since then her family have had no news of her. Photograph: Newsha Tavakolian/Magnum Photos
  • Fractured families: Paulina, 42, was abducted during a Boko Haram attack

Nearly 8 million people in the Lake Chad region are in acute need of aid and protection, and this year’s humanitarian response plan is asking for more than $1bn (£714m) in donations.

“Innocent civilians continue to suffer daily from direct and indiscriminate attacks in the north-east of Nigeria,” said Yassine Gaba, the UN’s deputy humanitarian coordinator in Nigeria. “Endless numbers of explosions, brutal killings, abductions and lootings continue to uproot the lives of women, children and men daily. I call on all parties to the conflict to end this violence and to respect human life and dignity.”

(R) Haji Isah, 25, nurses her daughter in the hospital in Maiduguri, Nigeria. (C) The road between Kousseri and Maltam, in Cameroon’s northern region. (L) 25-year-old Abdullah Mamadu who was wounded during a Boko Haram attack in Damasak village, Nigeria.
Right: Haji Isah, 25, nurses her daughter in the hospital in Maiduguri, Nigeria. (C) The road between Kousseri and Maltam, in Cameroon’s northern region. (L) 25-year-old Abdullah Mamadu who was wounded during a Boko Haram attack in Damasak village, Nigeria. Photograph: Emin Ozmen, Moises Saman and Newsha Tavakolian/Magnum Photos

Trade routes are closed, the fish trade is banned, farmers cannot access their land, and food prices are extremely high.

People wait for food distribution by ICRC in Toumour camp, Niger.
People wait for food distribution by ICRC in Toumour camp, Niger. Photograph: Emin Ozmen/Magnum Photos
Thousands of people displaced by conflict in northeastern Nigeria have taken refuge in Maiduguri.
Thousands of people displaced by conflict in northeastern Nigeria have taken refuge in Maiduguri. Photograph: Newsha Tavakolian/Magnum Photos

Hundreds of thousands of people are trapped in garrison towns throughout north-east Nigeria, with no jobs or income, waiting for the much-repeated mantra of President Buhari and his subordinates to be true.

A view of the refugee camp in Dar al-Kheir, Chad.
A view of the refugee camp in Dar al-Kheir, Chad. Photograph: Lorenzo Meloni/Magnum Photos

But even if Boko Haram is routed, defeated and beaten, the displaced communities may never be allowed to go home.

“We will not allow the people to go to the countryside,” said Kashim Shettima, the governor of Borno, a Nigerian state at the epicentre of the crisis.

This woman fled her own village after it was attacked and now lives in the village of Maltam, Cameroon.
This woman fled her own village after it was attacked and now lives in the village of Maltam, Cameroon. Photograph: Moises Saman/Magnum Photos

“We will not allow them to go back to the villages, but we’ll allow them to go back to the local government headquarters. You know, the world is changing. This issue of allowing the fractured existence of our people – 10, 20 families making up a village – is gone.

“We have to aggregate them into larger settlements so that we can provide them with services: schools, clinics, boreholes. The fractured existence makes them vulnerable to Boko Haram,” he said in an interview with the Guardian last year.

Pupils in a school where 200 Nigerian refugee children are taught by just three teachers.
Pupils in a school where 200 Nigerian refugee children are taught by just three teachers. Photograph: Emin Ozmen/Magnum Photos
A girl in a school near a Cameroonian refugee camp.
A girl in a school near a Cameroonian refugee camp. Photograph: Moises Saman/Magnum Photos
A teacher in the classroom at The Future Prowess Islamic School in the city of Maiduguri, Nigeria
A teacher in the classroom at the Future Prowess Islamic School in the city of Maiduguri, Nigeria. The school was set up in 2009 for orphans and vulnerable children, offering both a Western and Islamic education to both boys and girls for free. Photograph: Newsha Tavakolian/Magnum Photos
People gather at a cattle vaccination site.
Villagers and internally displaced people gather during an ICRC cattle vaccination campaign. Photograph: Lorenzo Meloni/Magnum Photos

Rebuilding all the damaged homes, infrastructure and restoring public services would cost more than $9bn, according to a recent assessment. Shettima said this was essential, along with creating millions of jobs.

These men were forced from their home on one of the islands on Lake Chad by Boko Haram.
These men were forced from their home on one of the islands on Lake Chad. Boko Haram attacks the villages on the islands, stealing all the food and cattle of the locals. It burns down the villages forcing people to escape and then uses the islands to hide from the Chadian army. The eight year conflict has left 2.6 million people displaced. Photograph: Lorenzo Meloni/Magnum Photos
  • Men who were forced from their homes on one of the islands on Lake Chad

“A military solution can never be the only solution to this insurgency; there has to be a political solution, there has to be an economic solution. Beneath the mayhem of Boko Haram, underneath the nihilism, lies the real problem, which is extreme poverty. Once you engage the youth, once you create jobs, this madness will evaporate.

A wood market outside of the Muna camp for displaced persons, outside of Maiduguri.
A wood market outside of the Muna camp for displaced persons, outside of Maiduguri. Continued violence in the northeast has forced residents to flee their villages, and many of them have come to the Maiduguri area seeking safety. Photograph: Newsha Tavakolian/Magnum Photos
  • A market outside an IDP camp near Maiduguri, Nigeria

“We are breeding a new generation of Boko Haram fighters,” he added, pointing out that there are thousands of orphaned children in Borno. “If we fail to provide for them, they will take care of us.”

Kaka Marem, 13, brought her son 18-month-old son Abdullahi to the Diffa regional hospital after he got poisoned by drinking water in Kableva refugee camp.
Kaka Marem, 13, brought her son 18-month-old son Abdullahi to the Diffa regional hospital after he got poisoned by drinking water in Kableva refugee camp. Photograph: Emin Ozmen/Magnum Photos

Contributors

Ruth Maclean and Eric Hilaire

The GuardianTramp

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