Nigeria sends female police to guard women in refugee camps fleeing Boko Haram

LAGOS, Portugal,  The Nigerian government has sent about 100 female police officers to a relief camp to guard females displaced by Boko Haram and investigate claims that they’re being re-victimized there by authority figures, officials said Monday.

In a refugee camp for internally displaced persons near Yola, Nigeria, a father holds photographs of his 18-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son, both of whom were kidnapped by members of Boko Haram during an attack on the family’s village. Photo courtesy UNICEF/Sebastian Rich

Nigerian police commissioner Damian Chukwu said Monday that the officers will guard the women, who escaped the terrorist insurgency in northern Nigeria.

The government’s move is also motivated by a report last week by Human Rights Watch that dozens of the girls and women at the camps, who’ve been displaced by Islamist insurgents belonging to the group Boko Haram, have been sexually abused by camp leaders, policemen and soldiers.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said he was “shocked” and “worried” about the report and ordered an investigation into the allegations. The female officers from the Borno Police Command, Chukwu noted, will help “dig out” the truth about what’s happening at the camps.

The police commissioner said many of the female officers are part of a special panel that will take over operation of the camps — thereby removing the prospective abusers from being in a position to abuse.

“I have constituted a [police] committee … to take over the daily running of the camps,” Chukwu added. “It is interesting to say that most members of the committee are females.

“The male officers will be limited to handling of the territorial coverage and patrol within the camps.”

Boko Haram, a militant insurgency group established in 2002, has carried out attacks in Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Cameroon. Formerly allied with al-Qaida, it pledged allegiance to the Islamic State last year. It’s now considered the official West African offshoot of the terror group known by the acronyms ISIL and ISIS, since it appointed Abu Musab al-Barnawi as Boko Haram’s leader in August.

Boko Haram was responsible for the mass kidnappings of more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls in April 2014. Nearly two dozen have since been freed and rescued, but most remain unaccounted for.

By Doug G. Ware