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Boko Haram's Deadly Legacy

Borno State in northeastern Nigeria is at the epicentre of a humanitarian crisis that has seen almost two million people leave their homes and seek safety in temporary camps. Since 2009 Boko Haram, an Islamist group which has been fighting the Nigerian government, has terrorised local communities through indiscriminate killings and kidnappings, often of school children. There has been an increase in attacks through 2021, including a series of large, well-coordinated and brazen attacks on government held towns and enclaves across the State.

Every day farmers make the decision to head out of the safety of their towns and villages, across defensive trenches, to face the risk of murder or abduction. "If we don't farm we don't eat and we die. Either way we die - but starvation is certain" says the chairman of the Miami IDP Camp in Maiduguri, the regional capital. Since the conflict started in 2009, an estimated 36,000 people have been killed.

According to UNOCHA, the UN's humanitarian organisation, 10.7 million people are in need of 'urgent assistance', 4.5 million of whom are facing food insecurity. 1.9 million have been displaced from their homes by the ongoing conflict. Just over half of the displaced families are in official camps where people usually receive assistance. The other IDPs, however, live in much worse conditions - in host communities and crowded, unofficial camps - where they get very little, if any, help.

COVID has exacerbated the situation, disrupting the supply of aid. No food or other aid was distributed for four months at the Bama IDP camp and more than 40,000 people in the camp and many outside it went hungry. According to a local medic working in the camp's small clinic, 15 children a month were dying in the camp.

A recent attack on Gwoza, an area southeast of Maiduguri, shows that nowhere in Borno State is really safe. Ibrahim Mbaya, the camp chairman of the GSS IDP camp in Gwoza, explains that two weeks earlier there had been a well-coordinated and intense attack by Boko Haram. The camp was caught in the crossfire of the night-time attack.

"Rockets and bullets were flying; we all lay on the ground in fear", he says. "We could hear the insurgents calling out ‘Allahu Akbar’. It was very frightening, and we have all experienced this before."

Panos photographer Sean Sutton, working with British landmine clearance charity the Mines Advisory Group (MAG), gained rare access to the camps and remote communities to document the lives of the displaced, many of whom have travelled hundreds of miles through territory littered with improvised explosive devices.

Thousands are still at risk of landmines and other unexploded ordnance as well as direct attacks, kidnap and rape as the protracted conflict between Boko Haram, other armed groups and the Nigerian army enters its 13th year.
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