Camps for people displaced by Boko Haram lack basic security and amenities.
Nigerian government and security officials have sexually assaulted women and girls who sought shelter at refugee camps after attacks by Boko Haram, Human Rights Watch said in a report. The rights group called out the government for failing to penalize abusers and provide the displaced people at the camps with basic amenities.
In July, the group recorded rape and sexual abuse cases of 43 women and girls living at camps in Maiduguri, the birthplace of Boko Haram. Four of the women said their assaulters drugged and raped them, while 37 said officials forced them to have sex either through false marriage promises or financial assistance. The victims said they feared retaliation if they reported their attackers.
One 17-year-old girl said a policeman approached her for “friendship” in the camp, then raped her. She later found out she was pregnant.
“When I informed him about my condition, he threatened to shoot and kill me if I told anyone else,” the girl said. “So I was too afraid to report him.”
Residents at the camps also battle with insufficient amenities and restricted movement, which leaves them more vulnerable to the advances of the officials. One woman, who survived an attack on the Borno town of Walassa, said she accepted the advances of a soldier because he brought food and clothes for herself and her four children. The 30-year-old mother said the man suddenly stopped coming, and she realized she was pregnant.
“I felt so angry with him for deceiving me,” she said. “Now my situation is worse as the pregnancy makes me sick, and I have no one to help me care for my children.”
A medical worker at the camp told the rights group the number of people in need of HIV treatment has risen sharply from about 200 cases in 2014 to more than 500 by July.
The Nigerian government has not actively responded to aid workers’ and human rights advocates’ concerns about the deplorable conditions in the camps. The Borno State Protection Sector Working Group, which compromises national and international providers, released a report in May detailing incidents of sexual exploitation in nearly all 13 camps around Maiduguri, Borno’s capital. In August, the United Nations special rapporteur on the rights of internally displaced persons, Chaloka Beyani, said after visiting Nigeria that the government tends to downplay the sexual violence and abuse against displaced people.
Human Rights Watch said Nigeria’s minister of women affairs and social development, Sen. Aisha Jumai Alhassan, promised to investigate the allegations and respond after seeing the group’s report. But the rights group said it never received a response from the senator.
“Failure to respond to these widely reported abuses amounts to severe negligence or worse by Nigerian authorities,” said Mausi Segun, a senior Nigeria researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Authorities should provide adequate aid in the camps, ensure freedom of movement for all displaced people, safe and confidential health care for survivors, and punish the abusers.”
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari responded to the report, saying it was deeply worrying to hear of the abuse and exploitation in the camps. The president said he had “asked the inspector-general of police and concerned state governors to investigate immediately.”
— by Onize Ohikere