They fled a Boko Haram massacre. Now, after years in refugee camps, families return to rebuild their lives and send their children to be educated.
By Fionnuala Hall
AFTER THE CHANGE of fortune – or the catastrophe – in Nigeria in 2011, the country’s refugees fled to their ancestral homes across a vast and diverse country, and now, in the 21st century, they are slowly, but surely returning, and rebuilding their lives.
Since 2011, more than one million Nigerian refugees have returned home, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
While it is hard to establish exact statistics, most Nigerians living in Europe, the United States and other parts of Africa, after the end of the civil war there, returned home after the military declared Nigeria a federal state in January 1967.
Since 1951, the population of those who remained abroad has increased to over three million.
For over two decades, refugees fled to many countries. They went to South Africa, to South-east Asia, to Western Europe, to other African countries and the Caribbean islands.
Now, they are in danger of being scattered due to the ongoing insecurity and instability in many countries of origin, with some even relocating.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there were more than 20,000 refugees who returned to their home country between June and September 2011. By September 2012, the number of refugees had increased threefold with 8,000 more arriving in the following two months.
Many of those who left ended up in refugee camps in Nigeria. Some came back and settled in the country’s states of Yobe, Zamfara and Borno. Others stayed in neighbouring states or countries.
The UNHCR projects that the number of refugees returning to the country will continue to rise.
In September 2012, the UNHCR reported that “2,716 people crossed Nigerian boundaries into the country between June to September 2011, mainly from Nigeria to South Africa and Cameroon,” and by September 2013, the UNHCR projected that the returnees would increase.
“The UNHCR hopes that with more people returning to the country, the government will make more efforts to resettle them in the country’s southern states where there is a greater