… Inside Internally Displaced Persons Haunted by Bandits, Abandoned by Govts
BY TUNDE OMOLEHIN, SOKOTO/NIGERIA
“Living in refugee camp in another country is unpleasant”, says Zainab Alhassan, a widow who has been helping women mostly victims of bandit attacks to return back to Sabon Birnin in Sokoto state.
Sabon Birnin, is one of the Sokoto’ border communities with Niger Republic and most affected by the incessant attacks from armed bandits since 2018.
In a roll, the refugees who were eight in number- mostly young women are seen ushered into Zainab’s compound to get some palliatives. The women were identified as those who had just returned from Tundu Sunni in Niger Republic after they were displaced by the armed bandits.
Zainab’s compound is a usual avenue for these women- most widows and children to get some relief since there is no help to get essential palliatives from the government.
“Most of these women are widows and have nobody as breadwinner. No one cares for their needs after they return from various refugee camps in the nearby Niger Republic. So, this is a humanitarian gesture I could render for them, especially the vulnerable women and children from the refugee camp,” Zainab explains.
She told RMTimes how the Refugees regularly seek food, drugs, shelter, water and medication, “since there is no any seccour from the Nigerian government.”
As she speaks, the woman at intervals takes time to pet a little baby on her back, the toddler’s mother was said to have died after childbirth in one of the refugee camps at Maradi, Niger Republic.
Zainab said it was miraculous that the baby survived without complications because the baby’s mother did not attend any ante-natal clinic during pregnancy – and living conditions at the settlement made the prospect of any safe delivery doubtful.
“She is two years and seven months old now and no one has ever helped me with a kobo in taking care of her, it is by my choice that I feel I can take care of her responsibility and God is helping us.” She told RMTimes.
HAUNTED BY GUNMEN
There are gloomy stories told by refugees who are returning from various communities in Niger Republic. Local sources said the returnees had preferred staying back within Nigeria’s territory despite their nightmares in the hands of armed bandits.
“Most of these victims are now roaming the streets of Sokoto, the state capital among other metropolitan towns within the neighboring states of Zamfara and Kebbi begging for arms,” says Garba Abdullahi, one of the Sabon Birnin residents.
Sani Danjika was one of them, a victim of bandit attacks where twenty-six persons were killed in January 2019, at Tabani and Gandi communities in Rabbah Local Government Area of the State.
He and his surviving family had fled to Tudun Sunni in Niger Republic but later returned to join other Internally Displaced Persons at Gandi town in Rabbah Local Government Area of the state.
The forty-five-year-old farmer told RMTimes how it was to care for his two wives and ten children at the camp. He also narrated how the bandits’ attack has changed his standard of living for the worse after forcefully displaced them from their ancestral homes.
“Anytime we are attacked, they will cartered away our foodstuffs like grains, livestock among others. While leaving, they usually set all our abodes on fire to ensure that we are homeless.
“If you have 1,000 bags of grains, they will ensure it is carted away. No rest of mind. The attacks are always in series. My wives and children have nothing to live on.”
Danjika also recounts how most parents had initially lost the bearing of their children before later found in nearby bush or communities.
“They chased you to the west, south and any other direction. Just to ensure they finish every living soul in the community.
“They don’t even spare women and children. The children are running for their lives. You can see a child as little as this running to nowhere.
Similar story was told by Shehu Dan-magaji, one of the few families at the Gandi camp. The father-of-seven explained how it took efforts of the state government to assemble the surviving victims at the present camp.
“They asked us to enter bushes in search of our lost ones to reunite with them here at Gandi town.”
Apparently seeing his bravery after the attacks, officials of the Sokoto State government delegated both She and Danjika to trace other residents who had escaped with gunshots to the neighborhoods.
“I went and disbursed food items to other victims at Rimi village in Maradi Local Government of Zamfara State, where other victims ran to. Which I did and asked to return all Sokoto indigenes to Gandi town.” Shehu recounts.
He believes that their cries still remain that they are not safe. “These criminals are still around us; they share the same market place together and they are always on surveillance. We are still vulnerable to any sudden attack.
ABANDONED BY GOVTS?
Both refugees and internally displaced persons across the Sokoto border’ communities now see food, shelter and security as topmost priority to live back their normal lives.
Seventy-two-year-old, simply known as Malam Hali is one of the displaced persons in need of a new shelter, at least, to accommodate members of his extended family.
In a state of trauma, he told RMTimes how life has been unbearable to him since he was displaced by the armed group and lost most of his family members in multiple attacks on his village of Tabani.
“I have twenty-seventy children and grandchildren,” he paused. “Unfortunately, most of them have been killed by bandits during their attacks and only living with few in the camp.
He said most of them went back to their various villages to continue farming but the criminals staged a comeback attack and charted away their farm proceeds.
“We are not enjoying staying in this camp because of lack of food and Medicare. Most of our elderly persons have died as a result of these plights we are facing.
He also reflected that most of his contemporaries have died in this camp, due to deterioration of their living conditions.
“They are helpless and could not get proper care at their old ages, so, they eventually passed on because they could not bear the sufferings,” the Seventy-two-year-old farmer said.
Abubakar Musa Balle, was curious to narrate his past ordeals to RMTimes, having seen a high level of inhuman displays by the armed bandits at Gundumi village.
“They beat our women mercilessly during such attacks. I can tell you that some of these criminals are now living within the town and the government is not doing enough to stop their attacks on innocent souls.
“The attacks were too much for us to bear.” Abubakar is currently saddened that the government has abandoned them to their fate. He said both state and local governments have left the victims to care for themselves.
“We are really in a humanitarian crisis now. We need water, good shelters and medical care.” He appeals.
GROWING DISPLACED PERSONS, A GLOBAL TREND
The number of people displaced by war, persecution, violence and human rights violations globally is likely to have exceeded 114 million at the end of September, 2023, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, has indicated.
By the end of June, 110 million people had been forcibly displaced worldwide, up 1.6 million from the end of 2022, according to UNHCR’s Mid-Year Trends Report, which analyses forced displacement during the first six months of this year.
The Refugee agency also notes that low- and middle-income countries hosted 75 percent of refugees and other people in need of international protection. He further said globally, “1.6 million new individual asylum applications were made in the first six months, the largest number ever recorded.
“Just over 404,000 refugee returns were recorded, more than double the same period in 2022, though many were not in safe conditions. Almost 2.7 million internally displaced people returned home during the same period, more than double the returns during the first half of 2022.”