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Sharp rise in children fleeing Boko Haram

September 18, 2015

At least 1.4 million children have been forced to flee their homes because of Boko Haram's insurgency in Nigeria and beyond, according to UNICEF. The agency has warned that finances for relief efforts are tight.

Nigeria Flüchtlinge wegen der Offensive gegen Boko Haram
Image: Reuters/A. Sotunde

The number of children fleeing violence perpetrated by the Islamist group has topped 1.4 million, the United Nations' children's agency UNICEF said in its latest report.

An increase in the number of attacks, which spiked between the end of May and July, saw some 500,000 uprooted in the past five months.

In northern Nigeria alone, nearly 1.2 million children were displaced, while an additional 265,000 took flight from the group in neighboring Cameroon, Chad and Niger.

More than 1,000 people have been killed since March when President Muhammadu Buhari was elected with a pledge to wipe out the group. Among its tactics, Boko Haram uses men, women and children as "human bombs."

"Each of these children running for their lives is a childhood cut short," said Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa. "It's truly alarming to see that children and women continue to be killed, abducted and used to carry bombs."

Enforced change of strategy

Since a push against Boko Haram by Nigerian forces, along with troops in the neighboring countries, the group has reverted to guerilla tactics - attacking villages to raid supplies and carrying out bombings at churches, mosques, markets and bus stations. Among its other soft targets have been refugee camps.

The greatest concentration of internally displaced persons (IDPs) are living in camps or host communities in Maiduguri, the capital of the northern state of Borno.

UNICEF has recently scaled up its help for refugee families, boosting a measles vaccination program, giving more people access to safe water and providing schooling for youngsters. It has also provided treatment for malnutrition to some 65,000 under-fives, and given counseling to traumatized children.

Funding running short

However, funding remains scarce. UNICEF has only received about 32 percent of the $50.3 million (45 million euros) it needs this year.

"With more refugees and not enough resources, our ability to deliver lifesaving assistance on the ground is now seriously compromised," said Fontaine. "Without additional support, hundreds of thousands of children in need will lack access to basic health care, safe drinking water and education."

Boko Haram has been fighting to establish an Islamist caliphate in Nigeria since 2009, pledging its loyalty to the "Islamic State" (IS) militant group in March this year. The insurgency has claimed at least 15,000 lives since it began.

rc/jil (dpa, Reuters, AFP, AP)