• Matters arising about forced displacement in Nigeria

    Matters arising about forced displacement in nigeria - nigeria newspapers online
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    Matters arising about forced displacement in Nigeria

    Today, June 20, is World Refugee Day—a day of demonstrating solidarity with the 120 million people worldwide who have been forced to flee their homes and seek safety elsewhere. Currently, one in every 69 people has been living in exile for an average of 12 years, often in neighbouring low- and middle-income countries. Forty-seven per cent are children, many of whom were born in exile.

    These staggering statistics are a symptom of a global crisis, where persecution and conflict are allowed to flourish unabated. It is also a cry for help for leadership — not just from our elected leaders, but from every one of us. Behind each number is a person just like any of us – a family who wants to live without fear, a child who wants to play with her friends, a mother who is worried her children are not eating well, a father who is looking for a job and to live in dignity. They all share a common dream – that one day they will be able to return home safely.

    To its credit, Nigeria remains a country that welcomes refugees and others who are forced to flee armed conflict, persecution and human rights abuses. Almost 90,000 refugees and asylum-seekers from 40 countries have sought safety in the country today. Most are from the Lake Chad Basin countries. The generosity and kindness of Nigeria and its people towards refugees are on display every day. In Nigeria, refugee children go to school; their parents find work; they can seek medical care when they are unwell. Most importantly, they feel safe here. Nigerians across the nation, in every state, town and village (regardless of their socio-economic status) are welcoming of people who have fled violence and conflict and need a safe place to live. In a world that is more polarised than ever before, this solidarity is quite remarkable.

    However, Nigeria is also a country of origin. Statistics indicate that over 400,000 Nigerian refugees and asylum seekers live in exile, many in neighbouring countries. Moreover, an estimated 3.3 million Nigerians are forcibly displaced within Nigeria itself. In other words, around three per cent of the world’s displaced population are Nigerians. Thankfully, the government and the United Nations are working together to find solutions for those who are forcibly displaced.

    Efforts are being made by the government and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to support Nigerian asylum-seekers and refugees living outside the country to return home voluntarily, in safety and dignity. Additionally, in May 2024, Nigeria was the first country to launch home-grown action plans to find solutions for millions of internally displaced Nigerians. This initiative, launched by Vice President Kashim Shettima and United Nations Assistant Secretary-General, Robert Piper, is a blueprint for other countries facing similar challenges to consider.

    That said, the magnitude of the crisis is immense. With over three million displaced, finding sustainable solutions requires a whole-of-society approach in Nigeria. Local communities are already helping just by being welcoming to displaced families. Yet, these displaced communities do not want to be a burden on their hosts. During my visit to the Muna El-Badawee IDP camp in Maiduguri, the men and women who I spoke with did not want handouts from the UN and non-governmental organisations. Rather, they wanted jobs that would allow them to become self-reliant and take care of themselves and their families.

    This is where the Nigerian private sector can do more. From large conglomerates to small businesses, companies can make a conscious effort to hire refugees, returnees or the internally displaced, not out of a sense of charity, but to help build a stronger community and economy. Excluding them would only exacerbate the problem. Inviting a single refugee mother to join a farming co-operative can prevent her children from dropping out of school or university. And she would likely make a great farmer.

    Hiring a Nigerian who has been a refugee for a decade and has just returned home can help him reconnect with his country and help him contribute towards a better future for his community. He would likely make a fantastic car mechanic, teacher or cook if given that opportunity.

    Forcibly displaced persons are agents of change. While conflicts rage across the world, we can create a different, positive narrative in Nigeria: one where the displaced actively contribute to building a stronger community, a healthier economy and a better future. All they need is a chance where they are not forgotten or excluded so that they can renew hope.

    Arjun Jain is the UNHCR Country Representative in Nigeria

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