Nigerian war children who don’t know parents’ fate

Nigerian children displaced after attacks by extreme Islamists Boko Haram line up in the refugee camp in Yola. Picture: AP
Nigerian children displaced after attacks by extreme Islamists Boko Haram line up in the refugee camp in Yola. Picture: AP
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ONLY seven children have been reunited with parents lost in the chaos of attacks in Nigeria’s north-eastern Islamic insurgency, as hundreds more remain alone

Officials say the youngsters have no idea if their families are alive or dead.

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“There is this fear that some of those unaccompanied children might have lost their parents during the insurgents’ attack on their villages,” said Sa’ad Bello, the co-ordinator of five refugee camps looking after children in Yola, capital of Adamawa state.

He was optimistic more would be reunited with parents as residents return to towns the military has retaken from extremists in recent weeks. “There will be more reunions when normality fully returns,” he said.

More than 10,000 people have been killed in the past year and more than a million people are displaced within Nigeria because of the five-year insurgency, according to the Washington-based Council for Foreign Relations. Hundreds of thousands of others have sought refuge across borders.

Haruna Hamman Furo, executive secretary of the Adamawa State Emergency Management Agency, said children might have lost parents among the thousands who fled to neighbouring Cameroon, and officials are encouraging them to return home.

Mr Bello said they had been able to reunite only seven children, working with the International Committee of the Red Cross, but 138 remained alone.

On Thursday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged Boko Haram’s leaders “to end the destruction of so many lives and communities” and to immediately and unconditionally release hundreds of kidnapped schoolgirls and boys.

Meanwhile, a new video, purportedly from the leader of the Nigerian Islamist militant group, threatens to increase violence in Cameroon unless the neighbouring country embraces Islam.

The video was released on YouTube this week and shows a man firing shots into the air with a Kalashnikov and standing alongside other militants.

It is alleged the man speaking is Abubakar Shekau, leader of Boko Haram, although this has not been verified. The Nigerian military claims it killed Shekau in 2013, but several videos have been released since in which he is apparently still alive.

“I advise you to desist from following your constitution and democracy, which is unIslamic,” the man says, reading from a script. “The only language of peace is to repent and follow Allah, but if you do not we will communicate it to you through the language of violence.”

While the video is difficult to verify, it does follow the style of previous Boko Haram releases, with a bearded man, allegedly Shekau, standing surrounded by masked men with AK-47s, with four-wheel-drives with mounted guns parked behind them.

Boko Haram, which means “western education is forbidden”, has killed thousands and kidnapped hundreds as it attempts to create an Islamic state in northern Nigeria. It has also begun targeting neighbouring Cameroon in the past year – on New Year’s Day, suspected Boko Haram militants killed at least 15 people in northern Cameroon.

Boko Haram came to international attention last April, when 276 girls from a Chibok school were abducted by the militant organisation.

According to Human Rights Watch, the group has abducted more than 500 women and girls since 2009. These abductions have intensified since May 2013 after Nigeria imposed a state of emergency in areas where Boko Haram is most active.

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