Displaced Nigerians prepare to leave camps, go home, but fear violence

Men, with belongings, proceed towards a bus loading point during an evacuation of Nigerian returnees from Niger, at a camp for displaced people in Geidam, Yobe state, Nigeria, May 6, 2015. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

By Kieran Guilbert DAKAR (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - More than 100,000 people uprooted by violence and living in camps in northeast Nigeria are set to return home soon, but many fear for their safety and ability to rebuild their lives, aid agency staff said on Thursday. The Nigerian government plans to close in the coming months camps housing 150,000 displaced people in Borno and Adamawa states as security improves in the north, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). The army has this year recaptured much of the territory seized by Boko Haram in its six-year campaign to carve out an Islamic state in the northeast, but the militants have since struck back with a surge of deadly raids and suicide bombings. Most people living in camps want to return home but are worried about the threat of attacks and lack confidence in the military's ability to protect them, said Stéphanie Daviot of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). "They also say that the economic situation is not stable enough to go back, as shops and services have not been reopened, there is little work and their land has not been preserved... many people do not have the money to restart their lives." Many of those who have already gone home have found their houses and land destroyed or occupied by others, Daviot added. "Those who return are not always welcomed back, some may be considered cowards by those who stayed and tensions can arise." The humanitarian response has so far focused on providing short-term aid, but greater assistance must soon follow to help the displaced move home and rebuild their lives, OCHA said. The humanitarian community will only support reintegration efforts, including providing cash payments and household supplies, if going home is voluntary and conditions are good enough, Daviot of the IOM said. Boko Haram's insurgency has killed thousands of people and displaced 2.2 million - more than 90 percent of whom are living with host families in local communities rather than in camps. "No one wants to live in a camp, it is a last resort for those with no other options," said Kasper Engborg, OCHA head of office in Nigeria. "For those in camps, going home is the most pressing issue... despite the lingering fear and uncertainty." Hundreds of schools in the northeast have recently reopened after being closed for a year and a half, though many teachers and pupils are reluctant to return because of persistent violence in the region, the United Nations said on Tuesday. (Reporting By Kieran Guilbert, editing by Tim Pearce. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)

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