TWO “heroic” teenage boys caught up in Islamist violence have been held up as the hidden face of the crisis in the Lake Chad Basin by the UK’s ambassador to the UN, Matthew Rycroft.
He led a UN Security Council visit to the region this week to draw attention to the food crisis that has been added to the continuing violence of the militant group Boko Haram.
The UN estimates that, across Cameroon, Chad, Niger, and Nigeria, 10.7 million people need immediate humanitarian help. About 8.5 million of them are in north-eastern Nigeria, the centre of Boko Haram activities. About 2.4 million people have been forcibly displaced by violence.
In a blog, “Who we’re fighting for”, published on Saturday, Mr Rycroft described meeting a 15-year-old boy who, two years ago, lived in a village that was stormed by Boko Haram. The boy escaped, but was held in prison as a terrorist suspect. Another 14-year-old boy had been kidnapped at the age of ten, but had escaped and was living away from his family in a camp for displaced persons.
“Somehow after all of this, they sat down with a group of foreign ambassadors from places they probably haven’t heard of,” Mr Rycroft wrote. “Bordered by photographers and guards armed with machine guns. And opened up to us. If we don’t tell their story, nobody will.”
World Vision has warned of a “crisis of forgotten children” in the region. “Not only have children been forced to endure atrocities of enormous proportions, but many are also suffering the effects of hunger and illnesses,” World Vision’s Lake Chad Basin response director, Dr Kathryn Taetzsch, said.
“Some children are traumatised and require psychological support as well as medical assistance. We are especially worried about those children who have been caught up between armed groups and are now held hostage or forced to fight.”
Dought is exacerbating social tensions. “Surviving has become a near miracle,” Dr Taetzsch said. The charity is appealing for $15 million to respond to the need.
Last month, a donors’ conference in Oslo secured more than $670 million in pledges for humanitarian aid in the region.