Boko Haram crisis: The victims who fled over Lake Chad

By Thomas Fessy
BBC News, Ngouboua, Chad
20 January 2015 Africa

image

Seven-year-old Fatima lies on her own in a big
white tent, crying inconsolably and calling for her
father who was killed by Boko Haram militants in
Nigeria.
She escaped with the rest of her family across Lake
Chad after the attack on the town of Baga by the
Islamist group earlier this month.
A field officer from the UN children’s agency,
Unicef, helps us find her mother, Hadija Umar, 30, a
bit further in the camp.
She is queuing among hundreds for a bucket, some
soap and a mosquito net.
“I am on my own with my three girls; my husband
was killed,” she says, carrying a three-month-old
on her back.
“He had gone to buy fish when Boko Haram fighters
launched their attack.
“Women told me that they found his body floating in
the lake, his hands tied and his throat cut.”
Ms Umar could not even go to see the body for
herself and mourn her husband. She ran with their
small girls.
‘Hunted down’
It has been difficult to piece together what exactly
happened during the assault on Baga and
surrounding villages.
Hadija Umar
Hadija Umar is caring for three children on her
own after her husband was killed
To find out more from witnesses who escaped
involved a 15-hour journey into the desert from the
Chadian capital, N’Djamena.
We set off early on sandy tracks, drove through
rivers, and were carried across others on rafts
made of oil drums and wooden planks.
Finally, we climbed into a dug-out canoe for the last
leg of the journey to Ngouboua, a quasi-island in
Lake Chad, where some of the thousands who fled
Baga have sought refuge.
Map showing area around Lake Chad
Most of the women, children and men here have
lost relatives in the attack. They say Boko Haram
fighters hunted them down as they ran into the
bush.
There have been claims that as many as 2,000
people were massacred in and around Baga. This
count was certainly an overestimate but there is no
doubt that hundreds lost their lives in this brutal
assault.
Whatever happened on the day of the attack, it is
clear that there was absolute panic.
People fled in all directions; families scattered and
many are now separated with no means of finding
each other again.
Cold nights
More than 100 children arrived on Ngouboua
unaccompanied, according to the UN.
Haroun Mohamed
Haroun Mohamed lost his wife and baby in the
chaos
Haroun Mohamed, 31, was among the adults who
made it here, alone. In the terrifying confusion, he
lost sight of his wife and their baby.
He has not heard from the rest of his family either.
“I don’t know if they are all alive or if some of them
have died,” he says.
“I am angry, so angry and sad. I cannot sleep at
night, I am just thinking about them.”
Mr Mohamed has to spend his sleepless nights in
the cold.
Capture of Baga
Satellite image of Baga and Doron Baga
Satellite images show the destruction in Baga
and Doron Baga after the Boko Haram assaults
3 January: Social media reports of Baga attack first
emerge
4 January: Boko Haram claims to have captured
Baga
8 January: Reports emerge of bodies strewn on the
streets in Baga, with some saying 2,000 people
killed
12 January: The government says that the number
of people who lost their lives in Baga was no more
than 150, including militants
15 January: Satellite images released by Amnesty
International suggest the number of dead is far
higher than officially admitted
Why it is hard to know the truth in Nigeria
Everyone on this island arrived with nothing. Not an
extra pair of trousers, not even a blanket.
At this time of year, the sun is high and warm
during the day but the temperature drops
dramatically at night and the wind picks up.
Aid agencies are slowly starting to distribute
essential supplies but access to this remote area is
a problem.
The Lake Chad region is the poorest in a country
ranked at the bottom of the UN Human
Development Index.
‘Chad nervous’
“This sudden influx of refugees poses a risk of
epidemic outbreak,” says Dr Bobo Makoso from the
International Medical Corps.
“Agencies are trying to guarantee that everybody is
vaccinated against measles and meningitis upon
arrival.”
People are continuing to arrive here every day,
usually in groups of 15 to 20.
The UNHCR says it cannot predict how many more
will cross the lake to Chad but it is preparing for the
possibility of another 20,000 arriving within the next
three months.
Unicef distributing supplies
The UN is distributing essential supplies to those
who fled to the islands
In the meantime, it has started to relocate refugees
to a site in Baga-Sola, a two-and-a-half-hour
journey from the islands in the lake, where they
have landed.
Unlike neighbouring Cameroon, where Boko Haram
militants are attacking army positions and have
kidnapped dozens, including Westerners, Chad has
not suffered any attacks yet.
But Chadian President Idriss Deby decided last
week to send a column of armoured vehicles
across the border to help the Cameroonian army.
“The government is nervous,” a diplomatic source
says.
N’Djamena is the closest major city to what Boko
Haram calls their “caliphate”. It is only 270km (170
miles) from Maiduguri, the main city in Borno state
in Nigeria.

Boko Haram at a glance
Founded in 2002
Initially focused on opposing Western education
– Boko Haram means “Western education is
forbidden” in the Hausa language
Launched military operations in 2009 to create
Islamic state
Thousands killed, mostly in north-eastern
Nigeria – also attacked police and UN
headquarters in capital, Abuja

Who are Boko Haram?
Why Nigeria has not defeated Boko Haram
President Deby has also vowed to retake Baga in
an operation involving the countries of the Lake
Chad basin – Chad, Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon and
Benin.
But regional powers have so far failed to work
alongside their Nigerian counterpart.
Mistrust prevails and some have criticised the
Nigerian authorities for not doing more to confront
Boko Haram themselves.
However, Boko Haram has taken its fight across
borders. Its Islamist insurrection is no longer just a
Nigerian problem.
Could the militants be forcing Nigeria’s neighbours
into war?
In Ngouboua, Fatima does not stop crying while we
talk to her mother.
Ms Umar is now alone, forced to beg in a nearby
village to feed her three small girls.

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