ABUJA/DAKAR, Oct 18 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The 21
Nigerian schoolgirls freed by Boko Haram militants last week
after two-and-a-half years' captivity urgently need support to
reintegrate into their communities where they risk abuse and
rejection, aid groups and psychologists said on Tuesday.
Around 220 girls were seized from their school in 2014 in
Chibok in northeastern Borno state, where Boko Haram has waged a
seven-year insurgency aimed at creating an Islamic state,
killing thousands and displacing more than 2 million people.
The militants released 21 of the Chibok girls after the Red
Cross and the Swiss government brokered a deal, and are willing
to negotiate the release of 83 more, President Muhammadu
Buhari's spokesman said on Sunday.
Yet the freed girls could face stigma, rejection and further
trauma when they return home, according to Patricia Grey, head
of women's protection and empowerment for the International
Rescue Committee (IRC) in northeast Nigeria.
"Women and girls held by Boko Haram have fear and anxiety
about how their families and communities will receive them ...
people being scared of you is traumatising in its own right,"
Grey told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"People often call former captives Boko Haram supporters or
the enemy, and this could hinder girls getting the help they
need as they fear the abuse will be even worse if they do so."
Many Nigerians fear those abducted by Boko Haram have been
radicalised and may recruit others once home, and that their
children born of rape may have been tainted by the "bad blood"
of the militants, according to a report by International Alert
and the U.N. children's agency (UNICEF).
This fear has been fuelled by a surge in the use of children
in suicide bombings by Boko Haram in West Africa, leaving those
born of rape at even greater risk of being ostracised, said
Gianfranco Rotigliano, acting representative for UNICEF Nigeria.
"SUFFERING IN SILENCE"
The freed Chibok girls will be assessed by health workers to
identify issues such as depression, anxiety and post-traumatic
stress disorder, said psychologist Fatima Akilu, who used to run
a state deradicalisation programme for Boko Haram members.
"They will be feeling very unstable, very bewildered and
overwhelmed," Akilu said. But the girls may face less stigma
than others abducted by Boko Haram because of widespread support
and the worldwide attention on their plight, she added.
The Islamist militants have kidnapped at least 2,000 girls
and women since 2014, turning them into cooks, sex slaves and
fighters, according to rights group Amnesty International.
It is unclear what will happen to the freed Chibok girls in
Amina Ali, the first of the Chibok girls to be released from
Boko Haram captivity in May, has since been held in a house in
Abuja for what the state has called a "restoration process". She
said in August that she "just wanted to go home".
Psychologist Somiari Demm, who counselled former Boko Haram
captives sponsored to go to the United States to study, said
Nigeria's mental health services were lacking.
"As a result, we end up with girls and women that are
suffering in silence," said Demm, adding that support must also
be provided to the girls' families after years of uncertainty.
"Any attempts to reintegrate these girls into an unstable
environment will only create more instability, and exacerbate
their trauma," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
A group of U.N. human rights experts said in a statement
that providing support for the girls was not only a moral duty
but also a legal obligation under international law.
Boko Haram controlled a swathe of land around the size of
Belgium at the start of 2015, but Nigeria's army has recaptured
most of the territory. The group still stages suicide bombings
in the northeast, as well as in neighbouring Niger and Cameroon.
(Reporting By Kieran Guilbert, Editing by Emma Batha. Please
credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of
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