The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on Thursday it was stepping up its work in the Lake Chad region, where more than a million people have been forced from their homes by the Boko Haram insurgency.
Red Cross programmes in Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria, the countries adjoining Lake Chad, will be expanded, Peter Maurer, president of the ICRC, told a news conference during his first official visit to Nigeria.
“Whole communities have fled their villages and endured unimaginable suffering … even if the fighting stopped tomorrow, it will take years of investment and painstaking work to rebuild livelihoods and services,” he said.
“The combined volume of those activities in Lake Chad are today 110 million Swiss francs ($118 million), which makes this region the third most important humanitarian activity of the ICRC worldwide. Just after Syria and South Sudan.”
The six-year insurgency waged by Boko Haram to carve out an Islamist state in Nigeria’s northeast has displaced around 1.5 million people. Thousands were killed last year in an unprecedented land grab by the militant group.
The ICRC is seeking an additional $60 million for the area for this year, with $45 million of that sum to be allocated to Nigeria.
Maurer said the number of people fleeing their towns in Nigeria’s Borno state to seek refuge in state capital Maiduguri was still “staggeringly high”.
Borno state is the birthplace of the Boko Haram insurgency and the region worst hit by the fighting. The Islamist militants also control territory in neighbouring Adamawa and Yobe states.
Nigerian troops, with the help of forces from Niger and Chad, have managed to push the group out of many areas in the last few months but are still trying to root militants out of their last stronghold in the Sambisa forest reserve in Borno.
Maurer said the mistrust within communities over who might be loyal to Boko Haram was even worse than the divisions he had seen among Syrians caused by their civil war.
“What struck me as well are accounts of stigmatisation of those who come out of those areas controlled by Boko Haram. There is a broad insecurity in the society on who is a Boko Haram and why are these people coming out now? And why to the refugee camps?” Maurer said.