YOLA, Nigeria – After the Nigerian government soldiers fled and the Islamic insurgents arrived in his village with guns blazing, Peter Fabian ran away along with dozens of other villagers.
“Our homes have been burned, our churches,” Fabian said. “Many of our brothers have been killed.”
Arriving in a camp here with all his worldly possessions reduced to everything he could carry, Fabian has joined the ranks of 1.6 million other Nigerians who have abandoned their homes amid attacks by Boko Haram. The massive displacement is creating a humanitarian crisis in Africa’s most populous nation.
“After Boko Haram pursued the soldiers from our village, they came after us too,” Fabian recalled of the attack on Warabe, in the Gwoza mountain area of northeastern Nigeria. He and other villagers trekked across the border to Cameroon, where they stayed about one month. After living on the streets there, they hiked for two days back to Nigeria but did not dare to return to their homes.
Fabian and several other travellers, all carrying their belongings on their heads, walked into the Damare camp as Associated Press journalists were visiting. Thousands of people are staying in fields, construction sites and other improvised settlements in Yola, the capital of Adamawa state in eastern Nigeria.
The army of displaced Nigerians has been left largely to fend for itself to find shelter, food and water, according to the European Union, which last week pledged 5 million euros ($6.2 million) in assistance. The people are flocking to relief centres across the country’s northeast, but find overcrowded facilities and a shortage of supplies.
“They are exhausted and vulnerable. We must find ways to help and protect them,” said Christos Stylianides, the EU commissioner for humanitarian aid, who put the number of displaced Nigerians at 1.6 million.
He urged national and international organizations to join forces and address “this displacement crisis of a growing magnitude.”
Nearly 10,000 people, with gloomy faces, maimed fathers and tired mothers, are now at the Damare camp amid a lack of toilets.
Sylvanus Papka, a top health official, said such a locale is a breeding ground for diseases.
Papka said outbreaks of diarrhea and measles are now under control thanks to a health clinic, but that the lack of sanitation poses a major challenge. The increasing influx of displaced people worsens an already fragile situation.
Some had fled their homes months ago, but it is dangerous to return even if the army wrests control of towns from the Islamic insurgents. Towns like Chibok, where Boko Haram abducted more than 200 schoolgirls in April and struck again in November, aren’t safe.
Meanwhile, more refugees are headed to Yola, including from Mubi, a town in Adamawa state that has been on the front lines.
“There are more than 10,000 displaced people from Mubi who are currently trapped in Cameroon republic and we are expecting them at any time in the camp,” Papka said.