Boko Haram is the deadliest terror group in the world, but efforts to wipe out the Islamist militants have fallen mostly to Nigeria and its near neighbors. While the United States isn’t contributing much to the military push, human rights advocates say Congress could do more to help Boko Haram’s victims by appointing a special envoy to coordinate aid efforts.
The terror group’s unprecedented violence has wreaked havoc on Africa’s richest economy and most populated country. The militants have killed thousands of Nigerian citizens, destroyed communities, and two years ago infamously kidnapped nearly 300 school girls in a single night. New reports show the violence is only increasing, with the group using children—some as young as 8 years old—as human bombs.
While the death toll is staggering, even more Nigerians are struggling to live with the fallout from the violence. West Africa has more than 2 million displaced persons without recourse amid the turmoil. On Wednesday, advocates urged Congress to ramp up humanitarian efforts to soothe their suffering.
“Many [Nigerians] believe the world is not concerned with their problems, and I agree,” former U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf told the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa during a hearing on Wednesday.
Wolf, now working full-time on international religious freedom and human rights issues with the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative, recently traveled to Nigeria and returned to offer Congress recommendations to help Boko Haram’s victims.
Of the more than 2 million Internally Displaced People (IDP’s), only 8 percent reside in official refugee camps. The rest are dispersed across Nigeria and into neighboring countries without access to basic governmental services. Wolf said Congress and the United Nations need to ramp up aid to IDP camps to provide food, medicine, and shelter.
But according to Wolf, survivors of Boko Haram’s attacks also deal with long-lasting trauma and stigma beyond basic physical needs.
Those who escape Boko Haram’s captivity or desert its fighting ranks are not easily accepted back into their communities. Many girls return to their families as rape victims and are branded “Boko Haram wives.” Nigerians are even more wary of the men who leave Boko Haram—fearing they are radicalized and will commit future violent acts.
“They are victims twice: when they are captured and when they are released,” Wolf said.
The former lawmaker said humanitarian efforts need to include counseling and rehabilitation programs and suggested the United States should send over non-governmental organizations to work with communities on the ground.
One of the few schoolgirls from Chibok to escape Boko Haram’s clutches confirmed Wolf’s concerns of sustained trauma. The girl, who now lives in the U.S. and goes by the name Saa, told the subcommittee even after successfully fleeing the terror group, her troubles were far from over. After she returned home to her family, she couldn’t imagine ever going back to school in Nigeria.
“I felt like if we go to school again they are going to kidnap us wherever we are,” she said. “I have a dream of a safe Nigeria. A Nigeria where girls can go to school without fear of being kidnapped. A Nigeria where girls like me are not made into suicide bombers and little boys are not routinely stolen and turned into terrorists.”
Saa and other young Nigerians who have experienced Boko Haram first hand no longer feel safe in school buildings or other public facilities. But countless more children don’t even have that choice because Boko Haram has burned their school buildings to the ground.
Human Rights Watch estimates more than 2,000 schools in northern Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, and Niger have closed or no longer exist because of Boko Haram.
“We have a decade of young people who have not been able to go to school,” said Christopher Fomunyoh, regional director for Central and West Africa National Democratic Institute.
Even if Nigeria defeats Boko Haram militarily, an entire generation of Nigerians growing up without educational opportunities will leave the area prone for another insurgency to quickly surface, Fomunyoh added.
Wolf insisted Congress needs to draft legislation to create a special envoy to be a one-stop shop for all aspects of U.S. aid and involvement with Boko Haram. He said even when Nigerians escape and flee to the U.S., they don’t know where to go for help, getting lost in governmental bureaucracy. Wolf referenced the role Congress had last year when it passed legislation to establish Knox Thames as the State Department’s special adviser for religious minorities in the Near East and South Central Asia. In his new position, Thames heavily influenced the State Department’s decision to declare genocide in Iraq and Syria.
Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., the chairman of the subcommittee, said he plans to start work on drafting the legislation required to create the special envoy position.
Courtesy: WORLD News Service
Publication date: May 13, 2016