“The refugees have already become a problem. Since the middle of last year,Boko Haram has seized effective control of 10 local government areas within the state of Borno itself. These people have now fled and aren’t going to go back as long as Boko Haram is there,” Peter Pham,director of the Africa Center at the Atlantic Council,said after testifying before a congressional committee Wednesday.
Boko Haram’s attacks have increased in frequency,causing 3,000 deaths and at least 250,000 people to flee their homes from May 2013 through March,according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center,which is affiliated with the Norwegian Refugee Council.
The House Subcommittee on Africa,Global Health,Global Human Rights,and International Organizations heard from experts who testified about the challenges facing the Nigerian government in combatting Boko Haram.
Boko Haram is an Islamist terrorist group that believes the Nigerian government has been seized by false and corrupt Muslims,according to the U.S. Institute of Peace. The State Department says travel to Nigeria carries a high risk.
The increasing number of refugees and internally displaced persons,or those who have been forced to flee their homes but remain in Nigeria,is the result of more sophisticated tactics being used by Boko Haram,Pham told the committee.
Nigeria had the largest displaced population in Africa and the third largest in the world behind Syria and Colombia,according to a report published by the center earlier this year.
“We are in a situation where families don’t feel secure anymore and in time this could create a new level of crisis,” Samuel Mbonu,executive director of the Nigerian-American Leadership Council,said.
In prepared remarks for the hearing,Pham said,“Boko Haram has developed a very diversified and resilient model of supporting itself,and that,as it increasingly takes on more and more of the character of an insurgency,it can essentially ‘live off the land.’”
Many farmers refuse to plant crops out of fear they won’t be around for harvest because of Boko Haram attacks. This could result in a major food shortage,Pham said.
During the three-hour hearing,experts said they doubt the Nigerian government has the ability to accommodate an increasing refugee population or combat Boko Haram militarily.
“Current Nigerian security forces have never experienced anything like what it is facing with Boko Haram today,” said Robin Sanders,founder of the FEEEDS Advocacy Initiative and former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria. Her group promotes food security,education and other issues.
Nigerian government security forces are outgunned and need additional resources such as vehicles,technology-based bomb detection equipment and better communication with neighboring countries that could help,Sanders said.
Rep. Chris Smith,R-N.J.,the subcommittee chairman,has visited Nigeria multiple times. He called the hearing just days after 20 women were taken by Boko Haram in the Nigerian state of Borno and nearly two months after nearly 300 schoolgirls were kidnapped in the town of Chibok – kidnappings that garnered international attention. Smith called for more U.S. involvement that did not involve boots on the ground but did involve training and support.
“National and state governments in Nigeria have to be pushed to do more on development with money they already have,” Smith said.
Reach reporter Anna Giles at [email protected]or 202-326-9861. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.