Nearly 300 girls and women are now free from Boko Haram captivity after a raid by Nigeria’s military. But some may have nowhere to go back to.
The identities of 200 girls and 93 women the Nigerian military says it rescued from Boko Haram in the Sambisa Forest on Tuesday remain unknown.
As part of its six-year insurgency, Boko Haram has kidnapped hundreds of people in northeastern Nigeria and neighboring Cameroon. Its most infamous mass kidnapping was in the town of Chibok, when the militants kidnapped 219 schoolgirls last year.
Military spokesmen have been unclear on whether the girls rescued Tuesday are or are not from the town.
Whoever they are, these nearly 300 women have a long journey back to normalcy. Psychologist and a counterterrorism adviser to the government Fatima Akilu says many may not be able to go home because Boko Haram has destroyed their houses, families or businesses, or continues to threaten their towns.
Others may be traumatized by their time in captivity, Akilu says.
“The life that they had before the Boko Haram terror campaign is going to be different, so people have to make an adjustment to a new kind of reality," said Akilu.
Akilu says the government is working to get the women medical care and connect them with counselors who can help them reintegrate into society. But their needs are many, and they still need to figure out where these women and girls are from, and if they can even go home.
“For us, it is really great that we have got them back, but it is going to take a while to get them reintegrated into communities that they left, because we do not know the state of the communities yet. They were just rescued yesterday. We do not know the state of those communities that they come from," she said.
Human Rights Watch researcher Mausi Segun says the government needs to take steps so the rescued women and girls do not simply end up in camps for displaced people, where jobs and help are often scarce.
“Many of the communities in the northeast are non-existent as we speak. So releasing these individuals who either melt into the larger communities or to go into IDP camps where the people already living in those places are living in abysmal conditions, it would be really tragic," said Segun.
There are also issues of accountability. A senior military officer told VOA some of the women opened fire on troops as they were being rescued, then said they were forced to fight by Boko Haram. Segun says these cases should be investigated and given due process if charges are filed.