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Refugees in Quicksand

This article originally appeared in Nextier SPD May 18, 2020

As the world battles a menacing pandemic, with social distancing equivocally advised, internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Nigeria are locked in a terrible quicksand. IDP camps in Nigeria are stretched thin beyond capacity, resulting in massive infrastructural dearth, disregard for basic hygiene, the potentiality of disease outbreaks, etc. The humanitarian crisis in the camps is enormous. Much worse, these camps are most probably the only option for thousands of its habitants. Nigeria has about 3.3 million displaced people with many of them spread in different camps across the country and neighbouring countries. The decade-long terrorism in the Northeast greatly enriches the figure, menace of banditry in the Northwest and so many other violent conflicts and disasters in the country. With these current realities in camps, a virus outbreak will result in far-reaching consequences. For example, the challenges of providing for internally displaced persons appear insurmountable due to the actualities in the camps. IDPs tend to suffer from extreme poverty and lack of access to healthcare services. Will social distancing work in overcrowded camps? IDPs camps in Nigeria are characteristically a communal-type of living where families or communities sacked by violence or natural disasters seek refuge in their numbers. In sharp contrast, social distancing calls for maintenance of physical distancing between people and also avoiding coming in close contact with people.  The essence of this non-clinical guideline is to contain the virus spread pending the discovery of a cure. The initiative is almost impossible in overcrowded IDP camps. The alternative to social distancing in camps might be to keep the sites on lockdown and ensure strict restriction of movement. As most families are lockdown in the various houses, the same method should be applied to IDP camps with a total ban on non-essential movements and visitations. How will it work in the current realities of IDP camps? IDP camps in Nigeria already face a stinging humanitarian crisis. Further enforcement of COVID-19 guidelines could exacerbate the dire conditions of the camps. Worse still, disregard to precautionary measure against COVID-19 in camps will turn the residents into sitting ducks to be consumed by the virus. Another major challenge could be the commitment of donor-agencies working in the space if the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t diluted their focus. The pandemic poses severe economic implications for Nigeria; however, it is a cross the nation has to carry. The government should seek the collaborations of relevant agencies working in the humanitarian sphere to ensure adequate provision of necessities (food, water, healthcare) to the IDPs camps. This will cushion the effect of the lockdown.  Misinformation or lack of it will pose a problem. It is vital to properly build the capacity of camp officials to enable them to effectively communicate the best practices to the IDPs during this pandemic. This will also include informing them about plans to restrict movements within and outside the camps and assurances that their needs will be adequately provided. Social distancing may not work in camps, but locking down camps and ensuring the maximum provision of resources to its dwellers will reduce the potentiality of a virus outbreak. 

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