ABUJA – Almost 22,000 Nigerians have been reported missing in the decade since the Boko Haram insurgency began in the country’s restive northeast, the highest number registered in the world, the Red Cross said in a report on Thursday.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said that six in every 10, around 13,200, of those were minors when they went missing.
“Every parent’s worst nightmare is not knowing where their child is,” ICRC president, Peter Maurer, said Thursday, bringing a five-day visit to the country to a close.
“This is the tragic reality for thousands of Nigerian parents, leaving them with the anguish of a constant search.”
There are several reasons behind the massive number of disappearances. Some families are separated as they flee conflict, others have been kidnapped or detained and their whereabouts remain unknown.
“People have the right to know the fate of their loved ones, and more needs to be done to prevent families from being separated in the first place,” Maurer said. The ICRC president met with Nigeria’s president, Muhammdu Buhari and senior government officials to express his concern.
The Red Cross works in northeastern Nigeria trying to reunite families with their missing loved ones. The area has been a hotspot for violence since the extremist Islamist Boko Haram – which is affiliated to the Islamic State terror organization – began a campaign of violence there around 2009.
The Red Cross said it has solved 367 disappearances cases since 2013.
Boko Haram’s first attack came on July 26, 2009, when it targeted a police station in retaliation for recent security operations against it in which the group’s leaders were arrested.
Four days later, police executed the group’s founder, Mohammed Yusuf, in public. His successor, Abubakar Shekau, took Boko Haram, which means “Western education is forbidden,” down a much more radical path.
The group grabbed international headlines in 2014 when it kidnapped 276 schoolgirls in Chibok, in Borno state, of which around 100 are thought to still be missing.
Boko Haram has been blamed for the death of around 27,000 people, according to the United Nations. The terror group also has a presence in neighboring Chad and Cameroon.
Around 2 million people have been displaced by the conflict.