MINAWAO, CAMEROON —
Boko Haram fighters have kidnapped and conscripted thousands of young men and women since 2013. Soldiers from a regional force — composed of fighters from Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Cameroon — continue to liberate captives by the hundreds during an operation to flush the terrorists from their remaining hideouts, but those formerly held say their struggles are far from over.
Hamidou Mohamat, 21, says he was seized from the Nigerian town of Kumshe three years ago.
Boko Haram forced him and his three brothers to join them, and those who tried to escape were killed, he says. The fighters attacked schools and markets, and ordered him and others to transport stolen food and goods to Boko Haram camps in the bush. He says the militants attacked farmers, cattle ranchers and businesses.
Mohamat arrived at the Minawao refugee camp in northern Cameroon unarmed, and is cooperating with the military.
The military says anyone caught with weapons is arrested and charged before a military tribunal. But others who turn themselves in, as Mohamat did, are held in special camps for investigation. VOA was not allowed to visit those camps.
Former captives say they are being met with stigma and suspicion.
Eighteen-year-old Yazan Imra came to Minawao after regional troops raided the Boko Haram camp where she had been held for two years.
Boko Haram fighters forced them and their children to the camp, she says, where the boys were used as domestic workers and taught how to operate guns and explosives. The women and girls were used as sex slaves and forced to cook for the fighters.
She wiped tears from her face as she spoke, and held her crying 16-month-old baby in her arms. She says she doesn't know who the father is.
Alain Myogo, Cameroon's senior military official in the area, says traumatized refugees are getting counseling and other special attention.
He says the military is working with humanitarian groups to take care of their health needs and provide them with food. The global objective, he says, is to free all those who have been held in bondage by Boko Haram and bring peace to their communities.