GENEVA – U.N. and private aid agencies are scaling up assistance to thousands of people who have lost everything in a fire that engulfed their camp in Maiduguri, the capital of eastern Nigeria’s Borno state a week ago.
What was meant to be a festive occasion celebrating the end of Ramadan turned into a nightmare. On the eve of the Muslim festival of Eid-al-Fitr, sparks from a cooking fireplace started a fire that spread throughout a camp housing 40,000 people who had fled Boko Haram violence. Two people died in the blaze.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees reports nearly 4,000 people, most of them women, lost all their goods. UNHCR spokeswoman Shabia Mantoo says the fire in this makeshift settlement has destroyed their shelters, razed houses to the ground and damaged other facilities.
“UNHCR is working with authorities, aid agencies and local partners to make sure that those affected receive shelter and other relief items as people once again are being displaced outside and also inside the camp now,” said Mantoo. “Many, including young children, are living under the open, basically living out in into the open and without protection and also needing immediate help — shelter, food and clothing.”
Nearly 300,000 people displaced by Boko Haram violence are living in organized and makeshift sites in and around Maiduguri. Mantoo says the current tragedy is only the latest in a spate of fires that have broken out throughout the region in recent months.
She says camps across northeast Nigeria are congested and shelters are too close together for safety.
“With violence on the rise, the threat of COVID-19 also brings in new threats for internally displaced people living in overcrowded camps and settlements where physical distancing is impossible,” said Mantoo. “In response, UNHCR is working with U.N. Development Program to expand several camps and build additional shelters.”
Since the Boko Haram insurgency started in 2009, tens of thousands of people have been killed and 2.5 million have been displaced across the Lake Chad region. This number includes 1.8 million inside Nigeria and the rest in Cameroon and Chad.
Despite numerous setbacks, Boko Haram remains a potent and dangerous force. The militant group has spawned other armed groups in the region, increasing violence. Aid agencies report thousands are fleeing for their lives every day. Those bearing the brunt of this ongoing conflict, they say, are young girls, old women and aid workers.