The International Committee of the Red Cross, or ICRC, says there were 64,000 cases of persons reported as having disappeared across Africa in the past year — nearly one-third more than the previous year. The ICRC says armed conflict is to blame for most of the disappearances, and Nigeria alone accounts for more than 25,000 missing people, including nearly 14,000 children, the highest in Africa.
A joint team of officials from the ICRC, National Human Rights Commission, the Humanitarian Affairs ministry and the army addressed journalists in Abuja Tuesday to commemorate the International Day of the Displaced.
Officials say the latest figures include more than 2,000 cases registered since January of last year, and do not represent the true state of things.
Officials said more than half of the missing persons were minors when they vanished, and that disappearances were mainly from armed conflicts, disasters, and risky migration via the desert and Mediterranean Sea.
Arrests, detentions and abductions were also cited as reasons for disappearances.
Yann Bonzon is the head of delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross.
"The number of missing persons continues to rise every year, yet the ICRC knows that this figure represents a fraction of a wider undocumented humanitarian tragedy. These figures reveal [an] alarming fact that children are particularly more vulnerable than adults to disappearance in Nigeria as the conflict continues raging in the country," he said.
Thirty-five active armed conflicts are raging in Africa, including the insurgency in northeast Nigeria that began more than 12 years ago. The war has spilled into neighboring Cameroon, Chad and Niger.
Officials of the Nigeria humanitarian affairs and disaster management ministry have pledged to collaborate with other relevant authorities to help families of missing people reunite with their loved ones.
Nasir Sani-Gwarzo is the permanent secretary of the Humanitarian Affairs Ministry.
"I want to assure you that the ministry is working earnestly to develop humanitarian policies and provide effective coordination of national and international intervention to ensure strategic disaster mitigation, preparedness and response, managing the implementation of fair social inclusion and protection programs in Nigeria. We will work with the National Human Rights Commission, the ICRC to continue to pursue important initiatives to tackle the issue of missing persons in Nigeria," he said.
Nigerian authorities last year launched a register for missing people and said they have had some success finding and reuniting them with their families.
They also say the ongoing conflict poses huge risks to progress.
Anthony Ojukwu is the executive secretary of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).
"The issue of missing persons [has] become increasingly prominent in Nigeria, not only because of the consequence of the conflicts in the various parts of the country, but as a result of acts of criminality nationwide, senseless and ruthless killings, and armed hostilities. We have established the database of missing persons in Nigeria, which would address the gap which exists in documentation of cases, and also gives families the platform to engage with in addressing the cases of their missing loved ones," he said.
Nigeria has been waging a war against armed conflicts ravaging its northeastern Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states.
The U.N. estimates that more than 37,000 people have been killed and more than 2 million displaced.
As the world remembers the missing people, authorities are renewing efforts not only to find them but to help families get closure.