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Africa

Nigeria: Boko Haram refugees find new home

In Nigeria, Mubi is known as the city of peace; half of the population is Christian, the other half Muslim. It has now become home to 100,000 Boko Haram refugees.

The city of Mubi is strategically located close to the Yedseram river, 10 kilometers (6 miles) from Cameroon's northern border. It is a place bustling with energy and activity: the old trade metropolis is one of three cities in Nigeria with the fastest economic growth.

In October 2014, the city, with a population of 200,000 inhabitants, was overrun by Boko Haram militants. Forty days later, the Nigerian military recaptured Mubi. The residents returned and many of them opened their homes to refugees. More than 100,000 people from Borno and other municipalities around the Sambisi forest have come to stay in the city.

Market in Mubi. (DW/A. Staeritz)

Trade is now booming in Mubi, after it was freed from Boko Haram's control

On the border road to Cameroon, engines of loaded trucks are running, small shops have cropped up along the route. Algoni Ibrahim, who is 23, originally comes from Banki, some 200 kilometers north of Mubi. When Boko Haram occupied the border town three years ago, he ran for his life across the border to Cameroon. After two years in the refugee camp, he heard about the chance to work in Mubi and returned to Nigeria.

For six months, the young man worked as a day laborer: carrying water canisters and loading trucks. He slept on the street and was arrested five times because the police suspected him of being a Boko Haram fighter.

A young Nigerian refugee looks at his phone. (DW/A. Staeritz)

Algoni Ibrahim, a former refugee, works as a tailor and casual laborer at the market in Mubi

In between, Ibrahim worked as a tailor. With the tenfold pay of a day laborer he could support his family who live in a camp for internally displaced persons in Maiduguri. "One must be able to do something, a craft, and then one can find work," Ibrahim said.

Picking up the pieces

A little further along the road towards Cameroon is a disused brick factory which has been turned into the Mubi transit camp. Men sleep in the production hall, whereas women and children shelter in five plastic huts.

The camp should have been closed long ago, but now 80,000 refugees, who had previously taken refuge in Cameroon, are being repatriated via the transit camp. Nigeria, Cameroon and the UN agency for refugees, UNHCR, agreed in March to return the Nigerian refugees. More huts are now being erected on the neighboring site.

Most of the registered refugees have found work in Mubi. They live with relatives or families who have willingly opened their doors. In the villages surrounding Mubi, land belonging to the chiefs has been given to the refugees so they can begin to rebuild their lives. Many businessmen have also given land to the refugees.

Transit refugee camp in Mubi. (DW/A. Staeritz)

More huts are being built at the transit refugee camp in Mubi to accomodate returnees from Cameroon

"If the security situation permits, all refugees would like to return immediately to their home villages," Safratu Ayuba, spokesman for the refugees in the transit camp said. The camp is managed and protected by the Nigerian military. Mohamed Buba Hakim returned a few days ago from Cameroon with some 130 other refugees. "Everyone wants to return," the 36-year-old administrative employee said. The military had promised to secure the roads after the end of Ramadan.

Life for refugees in Mubi

In the center of the town, on the first floor of a commercial building, is the office of the local chamber of commerce. Abdulkadir Musa, who heads the office, said trade is booming: "Business is going better than before the takeover of the city by Boko Haram, everyone is playing their part."

Mubi is growing at a tremendous pace since businessmen from the northern districts of Gwoza, Bama and Maidagali relocated there due to the difficult security situation in the north. Many of the roads in the north remain unsafe. Mubi, on the other hand, has a secure route to Cameroon and to the south. According to Musa, even the thousands who fled from Boko Haram to Cameroon, and now have returned to Nigeria, would be integrated without problems.

Seeking peace and security

Danladi Abubakar, representative of the emir, works as a mediator at the market. He knows everyone and is quick to deal with misunderstandings when they arise. Abubakar sees himself as a peace negotiator. He said he is not concerned with conflicts, but with peace. "We have learned that security is not a matter for the military alone," Abubakar said. "Everyone at the market has to become a guardian of peace."

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Nigerian vigilantes help after Boko Haram

Mubi residents are concerned that Boko Haram fighters may have come into the city disguised as refugees. "Every newcomer is closely watched," Abubakar said. "If he comes in peace, he is welcome. But if we notice anything strange, we ask him, and if necessary, involve the military."

Mubi is known as the city of peace. Pastor Dean Harris lives behind a prison once bombed by Boko Haram. It now has new walls. "We celebrated the end of Ramadan, we celebrated Christmas, and even at midnight we received guests of all religions," Pastor Harris said.

Car shells following a bombing. (picture alliance/dpa/AP Photo/H. Suleiman)

Boko Haram continues to attack despite being driven out of most of the territories they once held

Since the Boko Haram attack, suspicion prevails and people find it difficult to trust each other. Harrison works with the interreligious council. Since people returned a year and a half ago, the council has been holding meetings almost every week. "We know that people are seriously traumatized, so we have started a lot of initiatives to heal this trauma," Harris said. Because beyond the economic growth what everyone in Mubi really wants is peace and security.

 

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