Internally displaced persons in Nigeria face double risk: Boko Haram and Covid

In commemoration of 20th of June World Refugee Day, PSI hosted a webinar to raise awareness of the plight of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Nigeria amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. The plight of the IDPs affected by the humanitarian crisis is faced with specific challenges and vulnerabilities.

PSI maintains its commitment to defending the human rights of internally displaced persons (IDPs) to quality public services in Nigeria in the midst of the scourging impact of the Covid-19 outbreak in the country. The plight of the IDPs affected by the humanitarian crisis is faced with specific challenges and vulnerabilities.

Nigeria, with a population of 182.2 million people, tops the list of the three countries in Africa with the highest population of IDPs (the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan following next). Since 2009, violent clashes between government troops and the Boko Haram Islamic extremist group have affected 14.8 million people in the northeastern part of the country, covering Adamawa, Gombe, Borno and Yobe States in the Northeastern part of the country. The conflict has claimed an estimated 20,000 lives.

Nigeria, with a population of 182.2 million people, tops the list of the three countries in Africa with the highest population of IDPs

IDPs are often neglected, stigmatized, and already face difficulties in access to basic services. With the Covid-19 outbreak, their situation is further worsened as they struggle to survive the impact of the conflict and the contagion at the same time. Now more than ever, they need our support.

In commemoration of 20th of June World Refugee Day, PSI hosted a webinar to raise awareness of the plight of IDPs amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. Like refugees, IDPs are people fleeing danger and persecution but remain within the borders of the state. They live in overcrowded camps, informal settlements or hosted in communities mainly in the urban areas.

Speakers joining the webinar included Ms. Genevieve Gencianos, PSI Migration Programme Coordinator, Mrs. Fatima Mamman-Daura, the Head of the IDP Unit at the National Commission for Refugees, Migrants, and IDPs (NCFRMI), Ms. Halmiat Temitope Edun of the International Committee of the Red Cross-Nigeria (ICRC), Sandra Vermuyten of the German Development Agency (GIZ), Mr. Dave Bercasio of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), and Dr. Ebhohimhen of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC). The webinar was moderated by Ms. Moradeke Abiodun-Badru, PSI Nigeria IDP Project Coordinator.

Ms. Genevieve Gencianos from PSI said: “As public service workers, we stand in solidarity in the defense of the human rights of refugees, migrants and forcibly persons and their access to quality public services – based on the principles of solidarity, social justice and human rights. In Nigeria, PSI has been running a Project on Building Trade Union Capacity in Defending the Human Rights of IDPs to quality public services for the 3rd year now. The project is implemented in partnership with Union to Union and our Swedish affiliate, ASSR. With the current rate of infection continuing to rise across the country, it is crucial to ensure the inclusion of everyone. As our mantra goes, we can only be safe if all of us are safe. Therefore, it is very important to include IDPs in the Covid-19 crisis response, along with the health workers, unions and civil society. We need to safeguard everyone’s safety, dignity and human rights, including the human right to health. Our first duty is to protect those at the frontlines, our health workers, who are working hard to ensure that we receive these rights.”

Fatima Mamman-Daura, of the NCFRMI explained that the 2019 Nigeria humanitarian response plan (HRP) indicates that about 7.7 million Nigerians are in need of humanitarian assistance including the over 2.5 million IDPs who require shelter, health care services, food, security, psychosocial and basic livelihood assistance. She noted that the situation is further made precarious by the continuous attacks of the insurgents which systematically result to more displacement.

Halmiat Temitope Edun of the ICRC underscored how Nigeria is facing this epic and challenging time and shared 3 main recommendations, namely:

  1. for health workers to discharge of their duties properly, they need to be provided with adequate and equipped facilities including personal protective equipment (PPEs),

  2. Medical facilities be mapped to monitor their situation in armed conflict and

  3. Provision of assistance by government security agencies to ensure that everyone can deliver their roles. She concluded her presentation by alluding to health workers as our heroes.

Sandra Vermuyten of GIZ Nigeria shared the work that the German development agency is doing in providing economic integration and reintegration support for IDPs and returnees, which include livelihood and employment generation activities particularly for the women in the camps, such as soap and face masks making.

Dave Bercasio of the IOM in Nigeria detailed the various initiatives that the UN Migration Agency is doing to decongest the IDP camps, including establishing quarantine facilities in partnership with the government. However, he lamented that the biggest challenge they faced is the lack of understanding by the IDPs and the communities of the gravity of the pandemic. On this, he invoked the support of the health workers and the unions to work with the IOM in public health awareness-raising in order to enjoin the cooperation of the community.

Dr. Ebhohimhen of the Nigeria Labour Congress furthered the discussion by underscoring the need to build trust among all sectors in the Covid-19 response. He also reiterated the importance of core labour standards and the various instruments and guidelines provided by the International Labour Organization promoting decent work, violence against women and occupational health and safety. He concluded his presentation by urging the Nigerian government to ratify ILO C-190 to show its commitment to fight violence and sexual harassment while battling the pandemic.

The speakers were joined by leaders of PSI’s health workers’ unions, namely, the National Association of Nigeria Nurses and Midwives (NANNM) and the Medical and Health Workers Union (MHWUN), who spoke about the situation in the IDP camps in the Northeast and the challenges faced by the frontline health workers in bringing health services to the camps and the communities. They detailed their demands for the protection of the health and safety of the workers so they can render the services.

In summary, the webinar pointed to the fact that there is an urgent need to address the plight of IDPs in Nigeria from a protection, human rights, and public health perspective, especially at this point where community infections are on the increase. IDPs are vulnerable to Covid-19 because of the health risks associated with movement, displacement, overcrowding, increased exposure due to substandard shelter and poor nutritional and health status. There is need for government to recognize the rights, roles, and responsibilities of health workers, including key considerations for their occupational safety and health.

Government should include IDPs in the strategy, plans and operations on Covid-19 response in camps and communities and ensure the protection of health workers’ rights during the Covid-19 outbreak and make available adequate supplies of infection prevention and control (IPC) and PPEs (masks, gloves, goggles, gowns, hand sanitizer, soap and water, cleaning supplies) in sufficient quantity in the camps’ healthcare facilities.

The webinar concluded with the launching of the Project’s information, education and communication (IEC) materials linked to PSI’s Safe Workers Save Lives Campaign. The IEC materials included campaign masks and posters aimed towards sensitizing healthcare workers on their rights in Covid-19 management and to educate IDPs and communities on the World Health Organization guidelines on hand washing techniques for the prevention and control of the contagion.

Participants from the webinar also produced a Communiqué.