Poor Communications In IDPs’, Refugee Camps: A Global Crisis

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Sonny Aragba-Akpore
Sonny Aragba-Akpore

Access to telecommunication facilities in camps occupied by displaced persons globally remains a nightmare, whether via satellite, mobile, or terrestrial connectivity – the result remains the same. The people are left to their devices, and very little happens to cushion their communication needs. This issue is not unique to Nigeria; it is a problem faced by displaced communities worldwide.

By the end of 2022, the number of displaced people reached a staggering 71.1 million in 110 countries. Out of this number, 62.5 million people in 65 countries were displaced due to conflict and violence, while 8.7 million in 88 countries and territories were displaced through disasters. These figures were recorded by 2022 calculations, but undoubtedly, there is a rise, as seen with the ongoing war in Ukraine, courtesy of Vladimir Putin, the Russian warlord. He now wears the cap of Adolf Hitler, who wanted to rule the world. His inordinate ambitions led to a world war and the loss of millions of lives, with millions more displaced. The Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, has led to the death of thousands and the displacement of millions, adding to the long list of displaced persons in the world.

Data from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) shows that the figure for internally displaced persons (IDPs) stood at 3.6 million by the end of 2022 in Nigeria, which is part of the global record of 71.1 million.

The vulnerability of these displaced individuals is made worse by inadequate communications, prompting questions from IDMC about why the number of IDPs keeps increasing. They explain that rapidly escalating conflicts and violence in countries such as Ukraine and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), along with significant disasters like flooding in Pakistan, forced millions of people to flee in 2022. These individuals joined the tens of millions already living in prolonged displacement due to protracted conflicts, repeated disasters and a lack of durable solutions.

IDMC believes that supporting IDPs to return, integrate locally, or resettle elsewhere in their countries is essential. To achieve this, better data and evidence on solutions are key to informing tailored prevention and response measures. Strengthening conflict resolution, peacebuilding, disaster risk reduction, climate resilience, food security and poverty reduction are all necessary to reduce the number of IDPs effectively.

The former governor of Borno State, Kashim Shettima, now vice-president of Nigeria, was once tempted to close down IDP camps in his state due to their vulnerability to further violence. It is hoped that in his new position, he will revisit the IDP situation in other parts of the country where such camps exist.

In terms of interventions, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the UN refugee agency, together with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), launched a transformative agenda on July 4, 2023, to connect refugees worldwide. Their aim is to ensure that all major refugee hosting areas have available and affordable connectivity by 2030, advancing the digital inclusion of over 20 million forcibly displaced people and local host communities.

ITU’s secretary-general, Doreen Bogdan-Martin and UNHCR’s deputy high commissioner Kelly T. Clements witnessed how digital connectivity is providing a lifeline and solutions for refugees and displaced people during a joint visit to Ethiopia in early July. They saw how access to mobile money, online health services, connected education and employment opportunities in the digital economy are helping these individuals. Worried by what they saw, they made an urgent global call to action to increase investment and establish an enabling regulatory framework for providing connectivity to forcibly displaced and stateless people and their host communities.

A joint letter between the two agencies in 2021 outlined a shared vision of a connected society that leaves no one behind, in line with the Sustainable Development Goals.

Bogdan-Martin noted that: “In Ethiopia, we’ve witnessed the ingenuity of refugee communities in finding whatever path they can to stay connected with society”. She followed a visit to a cybercafé in Bokolmayo, in the Melkadida refugee camp, where the communities are requesting stakeholders to expand access to meaningful connectivity so that they can enjoy a safe, satisfying, enriching and productive online experience at an affordable cost.

UNHCR is leveraging its decades-long expertise in protecting and assisting refugees to assist IDPs, focusing on protection, shelter, non-food items (such as blankets) and camp coordination/camp management.

In Nigeria, Boko Haram and other non-state armed groups, as well as clashes between herders and farmers, have forced approximately 3.0 million Nigerians out of their homes, especially in parts of north-eastern Nigeria and the country’s Middle Belt, but increasingly in north-western Nigeria as well.

Internal displacement in Nigeria is the result of a multitude of complex and often overlapping drivers and triggers, including recurring floods and protracted violence.

The majority of internal displacements in 2022 were associated with disasters, as the worst floods in a decade hit the country between June and November. These floods triggered over 2.4 million displacements, the highest disaster displacement figure in sub-Saharan Africa in 2022. Half of the displacements were reported in the southern state of Bayelsa in the Niger Delta region, but the states of Anambra and Kogi were also heavily affected. Additionally, displacement camps in the northeastern state of Borno were flooded, forcing thousands of people already displaced by conflict and violence to flee again. The floods further limited humanitarian access due to damaged roads, bridges and infrastructure.

More than 676,000 hectares of farmland were destroyed, affecting essential crops such as rice and worsening food insecurity. By the end of 2022, hundreds of thousands of houses were still destroyed or damaged, meaning nearly 854,000 people were living in displacement, a significant increase from the 107,000 recorded at the end of 2021.

Around 148,000 internal displacements were associated with conflict and violence in 2022, the lowest figure since 2012. Attacks by Boko Haram and other non-state armed groups, which have been active in the northeast of the country since 2009, continued to trigger displacement, but access constraints and insecurity limited assessments to capture the full scale of the issue. The state of Zamfara in the northwest recorded the highest displacement figure in the country, reaching 48,000 movements. An additional 50,000 displacements occurred in the north-western states of Kaduna and Katsina, and the north-central state of Benue. The majority of them were triggered by attacks from alleged criminal groups or resulted from clashes between farmers and pastoralists.

While the number of new displacements due to conflict and violence decreased in 2022, the total number of people internally displaced by the end of the year was the highest since records began in 2013, indicating a persistent lack of durable solutions. As 2022 concluded, Nigeria was home to 3.6 million IDPs, with 1.9 million living in protracted displacement in the northeastern state of Borno. The government resumed the closure of IDP camps in 2022. In some areas, ongoing insecurity was reported, and there is insufficient data to ascertain the conditions of those who have left camps. In areas where humanitarian access is restricted by insecurity, IDPs are unable to receive aid, increasing their vulnerability to food insecurity and a lack of access to health and other basic services. This also exposes them to protection risks, including gender-based violence.

Sonny Aragba-Akpore
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