Nigeria: Armed conflict continues to uproot thousands, driving up humanitarian need

Since November, more than 80,000 Nigerians have been forcibly displaced due to ongoing violence in the north-east, adding to two million people already displaced by violence, or forced across the country’s borders as refugees, the UN humanitarian coordination office (OCHA) said on Tuesday.

In 2018, relief organisations had estimated that 7.7 million required urgent life-saving assistance but a recent upsurge in clashes between non-state armed groups and the Nigerian military is forcing UN agencies and their partners to reassess the needs on the ground. A 90-day plan is in the works to ratchet up the response – especially across the worst-affected state of Borno – to meet the immediate needs of an estimated 312,000 men, women and children.

The UN and its humanitarian partners also expressed concerned about the potential implications of increased violence and insecurity surrounding the upcoming presidential elections, scheduled to take place on 16 February, which could lead to potential new displacements and hamper humanitarian operations in some locations.

Since 2009, the north-east of the country has been in the grip of a civil conflict triggered by armed opposition groups. The conflict has now spilled over borders across the whole Lake Chad region, resulting in widespread displacement, violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, and protection risks for increasing numbers of civilians – all adding up to one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.

In addition to the 1.8 million displaced within Nigeria as a result of the conflict, the violence has led many families to flee over the border into neighbouring Chad, Cameroon and Niger. To date, about 200,000 people are estimated to be Nigerian refugees or asylum seekers, living in those countries.

The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, sounded the alarm on Tuesday over a recent new influx of Nigerian asylum seekers and refugees in Chad. Since 26 December, when the town of Baga on the Nigerian side of the Lake Chad, was attacked by a non-state armed group, around 6,000 have been forced on the run. Many of them paddled for three hours across the water to arrive in the lakeside Chadian village of Ngouboua, some 20 kilometres from the Nigerian border.

UNHCR and the Chadian authorities are carrying out registration and pre-screening of new arrivals to evaluate their needs. An overwhelming majority of the new arrivals are women and children and, according to initial information, about 55 per cent of them are minors.

The UN is urging all parties to the conflict to protect civilians as well as civilian construction and infrastructure, and to uphold international human rights and humanitarian law.
 




New UN bullying report calls for ‘safe, inclusive’ schools for all children

UNESCO’s report, Behind the numbers: ending school violence and bullying, released on Tuesday at the 2019 Education World Forum in London, reveals that nearly one-in-three boys and girls have been bullied at least once at school over the last month, and a similar proportion have been affected by physical violence.

Overall, says the report, physical bullying is the biggest problem in most regions, but in North America and Europe, psychological bullying is the most common, followed by sexually-related bullying.

Online and smartphone bullying on the rise

Physical bullying is more common among boys, while psychological bullying is more prevalent among girls. Meanwhile, online and mobile phone bullying is on the rise. Children perceived as different in any way from the norm, are the most likely to be bullied, with physical appearance being the most common cause followed by race, nationality or skin colour.

Bullying must be addressed because it significantly effects children’s mental health, quality of life and academic achievement, the report states.

Frequently bullied children are nearly three times more likely to feel shunned and more than twice as likely to miss school. Their educational-outcomes decline, and they are more likely to leave after finishing secondary school.

Not all bad, some progress made 

Despite the gravity of the problem, some countries have made significant progress towards reducing, or containing, school violence and bullying.

“We are greatly encouraged that nearly half of countries with available data have decreased rates of school violence and bullying” said Stefania Giannini, UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Education. “This proves that through a combination of strong political leadership and other factors such as training, collaboration, reporting and monitoring, we can alleviate the climate of fear created by school bullying and violence.”

UNESCO-recommended measures to lower school violence and reduce bullying:

  • A commitment to a safe, positive school and classroom environment.

  • Effective reporting and monitoring systems.

  • Evidence-based programmes and interventions.

  • Teacher training and support.

  • Support and referral for affected students.

  • Student empowerment and participation.

  • Better political leadership.

  • Robust legal and policy frameworks.

The UNESCO report is one of the UN educational agency’s contributions to the ‘Safe to Learn’ campaign, an initiative focused on ending violence in schools, so children can learn, thrive and pursue their dreams.

It brings together data from a range of global and regional surveys, covering 144 countries and territories in all regions, yielding the most up-to-date and comprehensive evidence on school violence and bullying.

“All children and young people have the right to safe, inclusive and effective learning environments”, concluded Ms. Giannini.




Hopes for Palestinian State hit by ‘facts on the ground’ : senior UN official

The possibility of establishing a “viable, contiguous Palestinian state” has been “systematically eroded by facts on the ground,” Nickolay Mladenov, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, briefed the Security Council on Tuesday, ahead of the quarterly open debate on the Middle East (Israel/Palestine).

Mr. Mladenov began his downbeat assessment by detailing the extent and growth of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank: the UN’s long-standing position on settlements, he reminded the Council, is that they are illegal under international law and “an obstacle to peace.” Recent examples include plans for over 3,000 housing units in West Bank settlements, and government plans to legalize several illegal outposts. At the same time, said Mr. Mladenov, Palestinian-owned structures have been demolished and seized across the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, with authorities citing a lack of Israeli-issued building permits, which are nearly impossible for Palestinians to obtain, as justification.

The foundations of a future Palestinian state are also being threatened by internal divisions, exacerbated by decades of occupation, and hopes for genuine intra-Palestinian, he added, are “fading by the day,” as the gap between Gaza and the West Bank widens. The early January arrest by Hamas of dozens of Fatah members in Gaza, was described by Mr. Mladenov as “particularly alarming,” and a “very serious blow to the reconciliation process.”

It is ordinary Palestinians, said the Special Envoy, who are bearing the brunt of the suffering, and the humanitarian situation in Gaza remains “desperate” : economic growth is insufficient to keep the Palestinian economy afloat, and the UN is working with the Palestinian Authority to address some of Gaza’s most pressing needs, such as maintaining an electricity supply, delivering essential medicines and implementing cash-for-work programmes.

The Special Envoy’s briefing was delivered on the same day that senior UN officials and NGO partners called for a halt to plans to forcibly evict several Palestinian refugee families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of East Jerusalem, part of the occupied Palestinian territory. In a statement, the officials said that forcible transfer is a “grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention,” and called on the Israeli authorities to “cease settlement construction, and abide by their obligations as an occupying power under international humanitarian law and international human rights law.”

Mr. Mladenov wrapped up his briefing with a warning that the Palestinian Question risks descending into endless conflict and the steady rise of radicalization on all sides, and that, within the current political landscape, those seeking to bridge the gap between Israelis and Palestinians are being undermined.

You can find more information on the Middle East open debate here.