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More help needed for refugees in Nigeria

Militant group Boko Haram are accused of abducting 100 children
Militant group Boko Haram are accused of abducting 100 children

A humanitarian crisis is developing in north-eastern Nigeria, as the conflict between the government and Boko Haram displaces thousands.

This month Nigeria was recognised as Africa's largest economy. However, the celebration has been short lived as a flare up of violence in the country's north-east now threatens to turn into a humanitarian disaster. The violence is the work of Boko Haram, a militant group that has recently been accused of abducting 100 children in the Chibok district of Borno State. They have been active in the country since 2002 but have recently ramped up their attacks.

The Nigerian government is now struggling to support almost 250,000 Nigerians who have been displaced by the fighting. Manzo Ezekiel, spokesperson for the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), tells Irin news that many of these people live in horrendous conditions. As it stands, the healthcare system is in a state of almost total collapse and around 50,000 will go hungry if they are unable to access more food aid.

Indiscriminate violence

The aid efforts in Nigeria have faced some particular challenges that have slowed down the response. Firstly, displaced people have proved very hard to find, since many fear that that they would be attacked in refugee camps. Often they have decided to move in with friends or family in urban areas instead, and have blended in with the local population. This puts a strain on host families and the urban communities where they live, so it is imperative that assistance reaches these hard-to-find groups.

Equally problematic is the indiscriminate violence that has come to characterise Boko Haram's attacks in the north-east. This has made it extremely difficult for the aid agencies that are attempting to work here, to provide effective support for people of the region. As Ezekiel goes on to say, “we have no idea what happens from one day to the next.” This uncertain environment makes it extraordinarily hard to plan relief efforts.

The road ahead

Though the government of Nigeria has often projected itself as strong and capable of handling domestic issues on its own, the levels of violence have taken everyone by surprise. Choice Okoro, representative in Nigeria for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), tells Irin that cooperation between NGOs at different levels will be key. Already, NEMA, OCHA and other international aid organisations have met to discuss next steps, including how the Nigerian military can communicate with relief workers better.

As it stands, NEMA and OCHA are sharing information more openly and are planning to help facilitate better access for other agencies. The European Union has already pledged just over $10 million worth of aid, but a May appeal by OCHA and the Nigerian government will call for a further $75 million to support humanitarian efforts. This funding will be essential if everyone who has been affected by this crisis is to get the support they need.

SOS Children cares for children in four locations in Nigeria. Find out more about our work.