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Boko Haram Has Forced 1.4 Million West African Children From Their Homes

In just five months, attacks by the militant group Boko Haram have displaced 500,000 children from their homes in northern Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, and Niger.
Foto di UNICEF

The bombing attacks often happen in the morning or late at night. An explosion tears through a village in northern Nigeria while residents are in bed. Panic spreads, sending families fleeing to nearby towns, displacement camps, and at times, into neighboring countries.

In the last five months alone, attacks like this carried out by the militant group Boko Haram have forced thousands from their homes, including 500,000 children mostly from northern Nigeria, but Chad, Cameroon, and Niger as well. UNICEF said Friday the number of displaced children has now reached a staggering total of 1.4 million.


"The situation is clearly deteriorating in terms of the humanitarian situation," said UNICEF's West Africa spokesperson Laurent Duvillier.

The spike in attacks comes as Nigeria's military claims that in in recent months it regained territory previously captured by the home-grown Islamist militant group during it's six-year insurgency in the country. But Ryan Cummings, chief analyst on Africa at crisis management company red24, cautions that Boko Haram is not yet on the defensive.

"While it's a positive development it by no means suggests the group has been defeated or that there's been a noticeable shift in momentum of the insurgency," Cummings said.

He said Boko Haram has recognized that it can't afford to fight various militaries on different fronts, and has shifted to a guerrilla campaign. Now instead of launching large-scale attacks for territory, it's conducting hit and run strikes on soft targets.

Cummings said the new tactics are designed to undermine the government's legitimacy, stability, and ability to provide security. They've created an ongoing climate of fear.

People returning to villages once occupied by Boko Haram and later liberated by the military have become vulnerable again to soft target attacks on civilian locations like bus stations and markets. In the chaos of the escape, many children are separated from their parents, Duvillier said. Many children are showing up alone to displacement camps, vulnerable to violence, child trafficking, and recruitment by armed groups.

Ensuring these children are cared for has proved a trying task for the cash-strapped UNICEF operation. The organization says it has only received one-third of the funding it requested this year.

Most displaced people, however, are finding refuge in makeshift shelters in abandoned buildings and schools, or in other villages where they stay with extended family or volunteer host families. And this sudden influx of people is happening during the "lean season" -- the time of year before harvest when food supplies are tightest. It's stretched local food stocks and raised concerns of malnourishment.

"Hosting families near the breaking point," Duvillier said. "They just can't host more people. They have nothing left to share."