Africans are slowly returning to Nigeria as Boko Haram continues to lose ground. But the task of repatriating is a challenging one: The neighboring NigerRepublic has begun deporting Nigerian refugees.
Officials in Niger Republic forced out over 3,000 Nigerians during the week. Over 50 perished due to lack of food and water.
“I counted over 50 people that died on our way out of (the town of) Lalewa when the Niger soldiers were chasing us as if we are animals,” recounted one refugee.
Others said the officials told them to leave and provided no time to collect their belongings. Niger did alert Nigerian officials, who drove trucks to the border to pick up the refugees. But so many died during the three-day walk to the border, including a woman with her newborn twins.
“There was no water,” cried Auwal, 22. “It was very hot. They collapsed and died. Nobody had any energy left to help them and we just had to leave them in the bush.”
Human rights activists blasted Niger’s poorly planned evacuation. Moussa Tchangari, the head of Alternative Citizens’ Space, said it would be more proper to call it an expulsion.
“Nothing was organized,” he said. “The government issued a kind of threat, saying that whoever does not leave the islands by Monday evening will be regarded as a Boko Haram member or sympathizer.”
The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) also lashed out at the way Niger authorities treated those around Lake Chad. The majority of those who live there are employed in the fishing industry, which means no employment if they are forced to move inland.
“People’s livelihoods have been destroyed because they have been told you can no longer live and work on the lake, and now they are told, OK, but in any event, we’ll take you back to your country,” said Karl Steinacker, Niger’s representative for UNHCR. “So they say yes… What other options do they have? Even if they are migrants, the question is, is it appropriate to send them back, and is it the right way its being handled, and I guess in both cases it is no.”
Fanta Adamu’s son rescued her after Boko Haram captured her small village in Adamawa state. He rushed her to Yola, the capital, to live in a home with 19 family members. But she does not know if she can ever return.
“I’m expecting to go back soon but the problem is the roads,” she said. “Boko Haram has vanadalised everything. I’m expecting everything to be bombed. We are afraid to go back.”
Charity organizations distribute food and clothing. The men found work and the children attend local schools, but all of them want to go home.
“You can’t compare living in a different place in a part of the world that you don’t know,” described Aishatu Ado, 35. “We are not enjoying it. Even if we go back, we don’t know the situation because the farms have been destroyed. We are just waiting to see what will happen.”