Penultimate Wednesday, the Federal Commissioner, National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons (NCFRMI), Imaan Sulaiman-Ibrahim, announced the federal government’s plan to close down all the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps in the country.
Imaan, who spoke in Abuja, after the inauguration of the NEMA-NCFRMI collaborative focal team on IDPs, noted that with closures, the refugees will be empowered to move back to their communities and become productive citizens again as they reintegrate into the society.
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Government, she said, did not envisage the IDPs staying in camps for such a long time, hence the need to ensure that they come up with better ways to ensure that the camps were closed down. The two major states hosting IDP camps in Nigeria are Borno and Benue and recently with the crisis in Niger, it has set up IDP camps as well. While Borno IDPs are as a result of the Boko Haram/Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) terrorism, farmer/herder conflicts turned many to IDP camps in Benue State. And in Niger, attacks by bandits have forced people to flee their homes to seek shelter elsewhere.
Most of those displaced from the communities and denied their normal means of livelihood depend on government, humanitarian organisations or individuals for sustenance. According to statistics from the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), in Borno State, functional IDP camps are 245, comprising of 190,591 households with a total of 831,321 individuals.
The grim figures show they include 353, 697 boys (0-18 years), 442,129 girls (0-18 years), 23,116 pregnant women, and 62,813 lactating mothers, 1,581 persons living with disabilities, 1,201 separated minors, and 941 unaccompanied kids. The list also includes 6,063 orphans (children), 16,578 elderly men and 1,891 elderly women.
In Benue State, NEMA statistics show over 27 IDP camps and over a million living in them between 2019 and 2021 as of April 2021.
This is not the first time the government is mulling the idea of closing the camps. Last year, it also said there were plans to close the facilities. This indeed is a step in the right direction as IDP camps were not conceived to serve in perpetuity. They are a function of a crisis and when that crisis is over or appears to have abated, such a decision is expected. Also, there have been reports of how some government officials and Non-Governmental Organisation have turned the IDP situation into a money making venture, thereby depriving the real victims of the crisis of any benefits. Furthermore, we do not want a situation where displaced persons become too comfortable in camps and refuse to leave after a while. So, we welcome the thinking of the government.
However, it must be well-thought-out so that the IDPs are not taken out of the camps and abandoned or taken to an area not well secured. They have already suffered a lot; emotionally and psychologically, so the issue must be handled with care. Government must ensure that the right security and infrastructure are on ground to ensure returnee IDPs are fully secured in their new abode. They have already lost so much and need to be protected. The places where they are being relocated to must be safer than where they are presently. And they must be easily accessible to enable Non-Governmental Organisations who may be desirous of assisting them to get to them. In fact, we urge the federal and state government agencies to build new cities for them. Already, Governor of Borno State, Babagana Umara Zulum, has commenced the construction of houses in addition to the 10,000 units being constructed by the federal government through the North East Development Commission (NEDC). That is commendable. We urge him to hasten the process so that it can be completed as soon as possible. We call on other states with such humanitarian crises to emulate that.
Government must also be realistic in its approach; as we are aware, while the crisis is abating in some areas, it is opening a new front in others like Niger State. This, therefore, means that the same time table cannot be used for all the states. The closure of the camps should be done in phases.
The federal government intervention agencies should work with international NGOs to secure decent employment through interventions such as vocational training and start-up funds while the farmers among them should be provided with farming tools. That way, eligible adults among them would be able to sustain themselves in their new abode. It is important that the IDPs get on with their lives.