“The first people came when their homes were struck [by militants], now people are coming on their own”

Mr. Abubakar Gombe of Red Cross in Gombe State helps to manage an IDP camp for people fleeing insurgency violence in Borno State. The camp is located in the Gombe-Biu by-pass area of Gombe in Gombe State. In this interview, he talks to TAP about his work with the IDPs. He describes IDPs’ typical behavior when they first come into camp, what kind of assistance the Red Cross and other international agencies are rendering, and the importance of the local community in Gombe State welcome of the IDPs. From this interview, we learn that there is still no institutionalized government program to help the IDPs fleeing insurgency violence and that post-traumatic counseling support is still needed for displaced populations in the region.

To assist with donations to this IDP camp in Gombe, do call Mr. Abubakar Gombe on his phone number 08032639263. Due to technical difficulty, we sincerely regret that we are unable to provide a Soundcloud recording of this interview.

How do you receive IDPs? Do they make their way to you or are they put together and driven down in government vehicles?

The IDPs come to us. Before the establishment of camps, they were just staying at motor parks when they run away from their homes [in Borno], because they don’t know anywhere in town. It was when so many of them were at the motor parks that it was reported to Red Cross. Red Cross then reported to Gombe State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), who decided to give them a place which is now the camp.

When you meet people, what kind of state do you meet them in? Do they have a lot of belongings?

One finds them in a state of despair. The first thing you see is their desperation, most especially the children, because they don’t know where they are. They can’t even stay still and look at you. The women as well are often in shock.

So they don’t make eye contact?

No, only the men. When the women are talking to you, they’re heads are down and you can tell they’re distracted.

The children?

You would see that they’re tired. Very tired and hungry, when we met them in the week after coming in from the motor park. Now that we have established the camp. Those first people that came, it was when their homes were struck [by militants]. Now, people are coming on their own [before their homes are struck]. Now that the camp is here, these new people don’t have as many psychological issues.

Demographics-wise, do you have more men than women?

Mostly women, then children. Then the men. We’ve recorded like 2000 people. Some have left [the camp], so we now have 1,570.

Why do they leave?

Some are government workers who’ve used their salaries to get a place to rent in town.

What other international agencies are with you, and what kind of assistance do you render?

It is only the Red Cross in terms of NGOs around in the camps. United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) supplies some materials for the children and adults, like food aid. Then bulk of food comes from National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA). Then another food items from philanthropist. An-Noor Mosque in Abuja brings in food for us as well. We also get used clothes. NEMA and Gombe State Government are the ones coordinating the whole thing.

The Borno and Gombe State governments, what role do they play?

Gombe is hosting the IDPs, giving them shelter, medical care taken care of by the state government through SEMA. Then Borno State government the deputy governor and governor came and gave them a lot of money in cash which they shared among the families, then promised them that soon they would go back.

So mostly ad-hoc, then? Is there any institutionalized program from Borno State for the IDPs from their state?

Not to my knowledge, no.

What is the situation like, health-wise? We’ve had an interview with the Health Commissioner and she talked about cholera outbreak in a camp in Maiduguri. Are you having similar difficulty?

We have not had that. We’d heard of the cholera outbreak, though, and we’re working on the sanitation issue. NEMA has added more latrines for us. They are divided for use by men, women, and even children. There is also hygiene education and promotion through Red Cross. So no, no cholera outbreak, bu some women are giving birth.

How many?

7 in the past two months. One of them to twins.

How long has this camp been open?

The camp has been open for 3 months.

A lot of care is given to physical health. What about psychosocial health? Following the abduction of the girls from Chibok especially, there has been a lot of focus on sexual violence during this insurgency. We’ve heard of young women reporting on experiences of sexual violence. And it’s even said that some girls have even given birth as a result of the rapes. What effort is ongoing to address women and girls’ specific need and even trauma-related issues?

We in the Red Cross give psychosocial support, but there is no center opened, and no one assigned to that specific role. We are mingling with them socially to find out their welfare. We are mingling with the men as well to find out if there is any problem. We encourage them to not hide anything so we can provide any support needed.

So there is no set program as yet, but it is being done informally.

No program, but I can tell you that if there are we can provide such assistance. People have been confiding in us, even those taking ARV drugs tell us. So we know if they are we can find out.

In addition to the question specific to women, as a general matter, is trauma also addressed informally?

Yes.

These people have also lost their sources of livelihood. What is being done in terms of re-training, trying to get them back on their feet? Or is it too early to think about this?

It’s not too early, because it would help to get things like this done on time. It would help so much. Other international NGOs are trying their best in that regards, but not in the camp.

Which ones?

We collaborate with Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and also Gombe State Ministry of Agriculture. Some local governments have given the IDPs seedlings. Even Gombe SEMA has rented some housing for the IDPs in town.

And community members welcoming? Is their movement restricted?

Yes, very welcoming, that’s why many of them even decided to move into town. Especially the religious bodies, churches and mosques. Child Protection Services too have even come recently with relief items for the children. Some of these people also have relatives in town as well.

State and Federal Government are they working hand-in-hand? Is there any duplication of effort?

Yes, I think so. They have many meetings on strategy and have demonstrated working relations. Especially so with NEMA and SEMA.

That’s all I have. Anything else you want to make note of that I haven’t asked you?

Only that the government has been promising them that they would go back in two weeks. They raised their hopes, but it’s not feasible. Some tried to go back home, but they couldn’t even enter their towns. It’s best not to raise anyone’s hopes.

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