Christians displaced by the brutal Boko Haram terrorist group in Nigeria are being denied access to food and vital assistance at a number of displacement camps run by local Muslim organizations, according to a leading Christian persecution watchdog.
As Boko Haram continues its reign of terror in Sub-Saharan African nation, over 2 million residents have been forced to flee from their homes in the last eight years since the terror group's uprising. According to the Christian humanitarian organization Open Doors USA, as many as 1.8 million people in Nigeria are currently facing starvation.
While there are several displacement camps set up throughout the country to aid those vulnerable, displaced and hungry families, there are a number of camps where Christians are being discriminated against and, in some instances, being told that the food and relief "is not for Christians."
"The governor did his best when the Christians had to flee in 2014 and 2015. But when the care of the camps was handed over to other organizations, the discrimination started," Bishop William Naga, who fled his home in the Borno state, told Open Doors U.K. "They will give food to the refugees, but if you are a Christian they will not give you food. They will openly tell you that the relief is not for Christians."
In an interview with The Christian Post, Emily Fuentes, the communications director for Open Doors U.S.A., explained that although Christians are being explicitly targeted by Boko Haram, northeast Nigeria is a Muslim-majority region. Since Muslims are also being attacked, Muslim organizations running the camps feel inclined to give Muslims "preferential treatment."
"Christians often get pushed to the back of the line," Fuentes explained. "Because Muslims are the majority there, even non-extremist Muslims, some of their neighbors are typically going to get preferential treatment by those providing food and assistance because of their Muslim faith. Christians might be discriminated against and some of those cases have been reported. It's just preferential treatment because they are not the majority religion in that part of the country."
Fuentes said that even though the discrimination against Christians might not occur at all displacement camps in Nigeria, "it is happening prevalently."
"I cannot say it is happening in all of them by any means. But we have heard of many cases," she stated.
Because of the discrimination Christians are facing at displacement camps, there has been an ongoing effort by Christians, churches and other organizations to set up displacement camps for Christians, which are being supported by Open Doors and its local partners on the ground.
"We have started informal, purely Christian camps because Christians were being segregated in the formal camps. They had not been given food, or allowed to go to church," John Gwamma, chairman at an informal Christian camp, told Open Doors U.K. "There is a term called 'arne,' meaning pagan, meaning you are pagan and not a Muslim. And as long as you are not a Muslim, we don't like you to stay together with us."
Fuentes told CP that although these camps were set up to aid displaced Christians, all displaced people are welcome, no matter their faith.
"There has been churches making an effort for several years to take in some of the displaced and doing things like this," Fuentes stated. "It has been an ongoing effort. Open Doors works with partners in this country. We have been able to work with them in getting assistance for the displaced, helping them build homes, food, other vital things that displaced people are in need of."
Along with helping provide aid and assistance, Fuentes explained that Open Doors is also helping widows of men who have been killed by Boko Haram receive job-skills training. She added that in some instances, the organization has provided widows with micro loans to help them start their own businesses.
"Boko Haram's tactics are especially heinous. They will go in in the middle of the night and attack women and children on top of men. They specifically target men most of the time," Fuentes explained. "In Nigerian culture, the man is typically the bread winner. They know they can destroy basically the entire family if they take out the man. Widows are often left with larger families in Nigeria. We met a lot of widows with five or six kids and no way to take care of them."
As Open Doors ranks Nigeria as the 12th worst country in the world when it comes to the persecution of Christians, the organization has found that as many as five churches are attacked every Sunday in northern Nigeria on average.
Fuentes, who traveled to Nigeria about four years ago, said that she spoke with locals who told her about instances in which Boko Haram fighters would disguise themselves as police officers and stop cars as they cross border checkpoints. Fighters, upon stopping each car, would check identification cards to see if the driver and passengers had Muslim names or Christian names.
"One of the guys I spoke to, his name was John. They looked at his ID, saw his name was John and shot him at point-blank range," she said. "He survived, thankfully, but those kind of tactics are very common."
Open Doors accepts online donations that will be used to provide food and other assistance to families displaced by Boko Haram in northern Nigeria.
"Every [$75] can provide emergency food aid to a family in Nigeria for six weeks to help them simply survive," the website states. "Open Doors is stepping up relief work significantly in northern Nigeria. If more money is raised than needed it will be used for similar work in other needy African countries."