BORNO STATE, Nigeria — On Jan. 17, the accidental bombing of the Nigerian refugee camp Rann, bordering on the Chad Lake Basin, became the largest fiasco of the country’s eight-year-long conflict against Islamic extremist group Boko Haram. As victims try to make sense of the chaos of their vulnerable state, aid groups throughout the region are scrambling to assemble assistance to help victims.
In response to recent activity from Boko Haram in the area, the Nigerian Air Force focused fighter jets above the refugee camp near Rann, close to neighboring Chad and Cameroon. The Nigerian government has stated that the airstrike was indeed accidental, calling the destruction of the camp a “regrettable operational mistake.”
Recent reports have put the number killed at more than 230, nine of whom were Red Cross workers. The number of dead could have been exacerbated by an attack on the camp just days after the bombing, when more than 100 Boko Haram extremists were held off for hours by soldiers guarding the camp.
More than 20,000 people have fled Boko Haram in the last six months as the group carries out frequent suicide bombings, some as recently as two weeks prior to the accidental attack. The extremist group, whose name can be translated as “Western education is forbidden,” has been embattled with the Nigerian government since its uprising in 2009.
The group gained further notoriety in 2014 after kidnapping almost 300 teenage girls from a school in the Borno region of the country. Boko Haram is one of the deadliest terrorist organizations in the world, estimated to have killed 20,000 people since 2011 while displacing more than two million from their homes.
The government has officially acknowledged its accidental bombing of the Nigerian refugee camp, promising an investigation into its gross miscalculation. Nigerian military general Lucky Irabor assured the public that the government would not intentionally target civilians, promising further reports on the details of the failed mission.
Groups in the immediate area launched critical humanitarian responses right away. Within hours, the U.N. Humanitarian Aid Service (UNHAS) had responded with four medical personnel and 400 kilograms (almost 900 pounds) of medical supplies and airlifted eight Nigerian Red Cross workers for emergency medical attention. A representative for the U.N. in the region has reported that the Nigerian military has also deployed medical assistance teams to aid humanitarian responders.
Doctors Without Borders, which had been actively operating in the camp during the airstrike, immediately established a triage center to treat and stabilize the wounded and prepare them for evacuation. The charity’s surgical teams in the neighboring countries of Cameroon and Chad were put on standby to provide any additional assistance. The Red Cross also acted swiftly, bringing enough food supplies to feed roughly 25,000 refugees for up to five weeks, a move that will affect more than half of the 43,000 that are reported to be living in the camp.
The accidental bombing of the Nigerian refugee camp has been condemned by Human Rights Watch as a violation of international humanitarian law, regardless of intention or lack thereof, and agencies are working to address what has been described as ”shocking and unacceptable” as Nigeria mourns amid the violence of Boko Haram.
– Emily Marshall