March is Women’s History month, and Refugees International had the honor of meeting two women, both born in Myanmar, who received the Secretary of State’s 2019 International Women of Courage (IWOC) award.
An important renewal of global commitment to peacekeeping took place recently at the United Nations Peacekeeping Defense Ministerial conference in Vancouver. Member countries and international organizations presented their commitments to improve and reinforce peacekeeping efforts. But at this time of funding cuts in many countries, the actual fulfillment of those pledges will be a challenge.
This month marks the three-year anniversary of the withdrawal of an 11,000-strong Peshmerga force from Sinjar in northern Iraq. The withdrawal left Sinjar’s Yazidi minority community besieged by Islamic State (ISIS) fighters. For one displaced Yazidi family with whom I recently met in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, there is both reason to grieve and to celebrate. The head of family told me that dozens of extended family members were kidnapped by ISIS during the siege. But this anniversary also marks the first that his now 15-year-old daughter, Vian,* is home.
I met Amara earlier this week in the office of a local grassroots organization in Borno state’s capital, Maiduguri. Amara, a pretty, cherub-faced girl, was accompanied by her mother with whom she had been reunited just six weeks prior, after a one year-long separation. Their separation was not voluntary. Over a year ago, Amara had been abducted by Boko Haram when they attacked her village of Baga.
Since 2009, Boko Haram insurgents have been terrorizing civilians in northeastern Nigeria. The group gained international notoriety when they abducted hundreds of girls from a school in Chibok, in Borno State, and over the years has abducted thousands of men, women, boys, and girls to use as soldiers and sex slaves. An estimated two million Nigerians have been displaced as a result of Boko Haram’s campaign of terror.
I am in Maiduguri, the capital of Nigeria’s northeastern Borno State, and the home to approximately 1.6 million people who have been displaced by the terrorist group Boko Haram. For the past few days, I have been meeting with some of those displaced, and hearing their stories of the attacks that forced them to flee.
We are in the refugee camp of Touloum in eastern Chad and the sun is bright. The camp is surrounded by desert for miles in every direction. It is quiet in the camp as we walk through, except for a small group of children who are playing outside and the occasional sound of a donkey trudging through the sand.