In regions controlled by Boko Haram, aid organizations find that their work is becoming more and more dangerous. German development minister, Gerd Müller, is expected to raise the issue during a trip to Nigeria.
Their main goal is to help - at the same time they are turning into a target for terrorists: members of organizations for development and their important activities in north-eastern Nigeria are continuously being threatened by Boko Haram's terror.
According to human rights organizations more than 3,000 people have been killed in attacks committed by the militant Islamist sect during the past four years. Round about 250,000 Nigerians have fleed the region around the city of Maiduguri. More than one million people in Nigeria have been displaced by diverse regional conflicts.
One development agency active in Nigeria, is Misereor. The Catholic aid organization doesn't deploy its own employees to work on the ground but supports projects with local partners. Mathias Kamp heads Misereor's operations in Nigeria's capital Abudja. "Work, as it has taken place in the past is now strongly limited," Kamp told DW. "You can't go inside some of the villages without putting yourself at risk."
Motorbikes and Boko Haram
In addition to the direct danger through terrorist attacks or assaults by armed fighters, there is also another problem: logistics. "Partly there is a lack of means of transport. A lot was previously handled with motorbikes. These, however, were then forbidden as Boko Haram frequently drove to the villages on motorbikes," Kamp added.
In comparison to other aid organizations however Misereor has the advantage of workers who have close ties to local structures. "Within the churches there is a network, which reaches right into communities and in which you are working with personnel who know both the people and the local conditions very well," the Misereor representative said.
Other aid workers had to face far worse problems. "At present it is almost impossible in some parts of the region for aid organizations with external or foreign personnel to do anything at all," Kamp said.
Dangerous conditions for staff
On the other hand there is an extensive risk of institutions with church funding becoming a main target for the terrorist group. At least this has happened in the past. "Our partners have been reporting the destruction of churches, schools, related to church funding and so on," Kamp explained.
More recently Boko Haram's focus has shifted. "It's hardly about hitting public or religious institutions any more but rather – as the latest raids on villages and bomb attacks have shown – about killing as many people as possible," he said.
The employees with the local aid organizations cooperating with Misereor have, however, not been harmed directly according to Kamp. Nonetheless, they are being affected by Boko Haram's terror. "We have members of staff with our partners who have lost family members; we had attacks on schools where our workers' children had been going to school. Fortunately it was a close shave as the children were able to hide in the woods. Still you become increasingly aware that it is coming closer to us and our partners."
Prevent religious separation
Many people are fleeing the afflicted villages in order to lead themselves and their families to safety. Aid organizations are trying to assist them. Because there are no major refugee camps in the region, people are seeking refuge with relatives or friends in other villages or nearby cities. "There are dozens of people there, staying with their families – lacking food, clothes and drinking water. Our partners and church related structures are trying to help there too."
Kamp seeks to emphasize that Misereor - as an organization linked to the church - is trying to counter Boko Haram's efforts to drive a wedge between Muslims and Christians. "We are looking into whether it is possible to place Christians in Muslim families and the other way around." In the public perception, it was now being recognized that Boko Haram is attacking both Christians and Muslim with equal vehemence. The impression that Muslims are fighting Christians mustn't be allowed to develop, he said. "Of course, you can try to avoid giving that impression in your dealings with the refugees."