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UN chief calls for safe return for Nigeria’s displaced

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres addresses the 37th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council on February 26, 2018 in Geneva.

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Tuesday called for the safe and “dignified” return of people displaced by Nigeria’s jihadist conflict, as local authorities close camps and urge people to go back to their communities. More than 40,000 people have been killed and around 2.2 million people displaced by over a decade of fighting in the country’s northeast between the military and Boko Haram and its offshoot Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP).

During a visit to a camp for displaced people in Maiduguri, Guterres praised the local governor’s efforts for development in Borno State, the epicentre of the conflict since 2009.   

Nigerian authorities are planning to close all camps for displaced people in Borno by 2026 — but aid agencies are concerned about security and conditions on the ground in some of the communities to which they will return.

“Let’s do what we have to do about humanitarian support to these camps,” Guterres said.

“But let’s try to find a solution for people, and that solution is to create the conditions, security conditions, development conditions for them to be able to go back home in safety and dignity.”

Nigerian officials say they only return people to secure areas, with the goal of encouraging the resumption of farming and weaning people off humanitarian assistance. Guterres also visited a rehabilitation camp for former jihadist fighters and called for more support for efforts to reintegrate them into society. 

Thousands of Boko Haram fighters and their families have surrendered in recent months.

“I was amazed to see today in the centre [that] those that have been terrorists, they want to integrate in the society and contribute to society. And the policy that is in place here is a policy of reconciliation,” he said.

Before flying to Nigeria, Guterres went to meet displaced people and refugees in western Niger in the morning. His regional tour is due to end on Wednesday.