My Model United Nations team represented Angola, a country that was all too familiar with internally displaced persons (IDPs). We had experienced a 27-year civil war that led to the displacement of more than three million people, so we hoped that the adopted resolutions at the conference would spur the international community to come to the rescue of displaced people around the world facing the harshest living conditions imaginable.
The UN Human Rights Council negotiations took place in the Sheraton Hotel on Seventh Avenue in New York City. Members of the Council spent the week deliberating on strategies to strengthen the human rights of returnees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in conflict-ridden regions. After several hours of debate, deal making, and writing with fellow delegates, we adopted three resolutions that would shape the Council’s response to the plight of IDPs around the world.
I recall this memory partly with fondness because the National Model United Nations conference was one of my best experiences as a college student, but more so with a heavy heart because in my own country, Nigeria, the humanitarian crisis now demands action to a degree surpassing what we called for in our simulated world.
In the last five years, more than 15,000 Nigerians have lost their lives to Boko Haram’s terror. Over 2.1 million people have fled their homes as a result of the violence. Many families have also had to cross the border into Cameroon, Chad, and Niger in search of refuge. The UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates there are currently 1.8 million internally displaced people in the six northeast states. Borno, the site of the recent IDP camp bombing that killed dozens of Nigerians, has been affected most significantly.
Right now, there are 4.5 million Nigerians who do not know where their next meal will come from. Approximately 244,000 children are currently severely malnourished, with about 49,000 at risk of death, according to the World Food Programme. Children are literally dying of hunger. Evidence has emerged showing that security officials rape and abuse women in IDP camps in exchange for food or the freedom to move around camps. Women and young girls lack access to sanitary pads and dignity kits.
These are not data points. These are real people—families, women and children—with dreams and aspirations. Lives have been disrupted and futures remain uncertain. They are not objects of pity, but whole beings that deserve to lead lives that they have always imagined for themselves.
By many standards, the situation in Northeast Nigeria is one of the most severe humanitarian crises in the world, yet we are not paying enough attention to it.
But we should care. Bigly.
As the writer, Elnathan John, put it, “the only difference between you and an IDP is that Boko Haram did not raid and sack the community you once lived in. That’s all.”
Nigerians like myself who are far from the crisis must resist the urge to ignore it simply because it seems to be happening at a distance—the same goes for the rest of the world. Let us instead tap into our shared humanity with the people of northeast Nigeria and act in accordance with this responsibility to help improve their immediate reality. Ask yourself what you can do. And do just that. I am asking myself too.
This isn’t a simulation. This is real life.
Make a donation; reach out; tell your friends about what’s going on in Nigeria; write about it; visit an IDP camp; call your Congressman.