Hundreds of thousands of people displaced by Boko Haram’s insurgency have returned home, only to face another challenge: famine. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)

Thousands of Nigerians who fled Boko Haram’s insurgency, and sought refuge in neighbouring Cameroon, have been forced back home, the UN said on 29 June, as Reuters reports.

According to the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), some 887 Nigerians, most of them children, were repatriated against their will on 27 June alone. The UNHCR said it was a violation of an agreement between the two countries to host thousands fleeing Boko Haram’s violence.

“The involuntary return of refugees must be avoided under any circumstances,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said. “Returns to Nigeria put a strain on the few existing services and are not sustainable at this time.”

The Washington Post, also quoting UN officials, reports that at least 5,000 refugees were rounded up in Cameroonian villages and refugee camps and expelled to Nigeria in recent months. The actual number of those forcibly returned is already over 10,000, including people evicted in sporadic operations since 2013.

But Cameroon rejected the UNHCR’s accusation and said people have returned willingly.

So far, hundreds of thousands of people displaced by the insurgency have returned home, only to face another challenge: famine, which the UN has described as the “greatest crisis on the continent”. The UN said in May that it needed to reach 3 million people with food before July to avert crisis.

The UN also says that as many as 14 million are in need of humanitarian aid in the region, the epicentre of the eight-year Boko Haram insurgency, which has claimed more than 20,000 lives and displaced more than 2.5 million people in Nigeria and neighbouring Niger, Cameroon and Chad.

In north-east Nigeria, three states have been particularly badly hit: Borno, Adamawa and Yobe. A recent article on the social change platform Machacha sheds new light on the difficult conditions faced by the returnees.

A February-March report by the International Organization for Migration reveals that Adamawa State has had the highest number of returnees, with a total of 655,122, followed by Borno and Yobe. About 1,151,427 internally displaced people returned home in March, with over 10% (122, 507) of them returned to Michika, in Adamawa.