For the first time, the UN refugee agency marked the June 20 World Refugee Day at the American University of Nigeria, Yola.
It was the first out-of-Abuja observance in Nigeria of the day set aside by the UN since 2001 to highlight the plight of the displaced of the world.
The event, held in a northeast capital of the country, is seen by many as a signpost of the new security situation in the region, and an acknowledgement of the lead role played by the university in continuing to care for over 250, 000 people still displaced from their homes in the region.
During a town hall meeting at AUN on April 22, United States ambassador to the United Nations, Dr. Samantha Power, had singled out AUN for commendation.
“What you all have done is really a model for how universities in not only Nigeria but all around the world can wade into some of the most complex and seemingly intractable challenges facing their communities,” she said.
“AUN will continue to support the state government to cater for refugees and their host communities in Adamawa State,” AUN President Margee Ensign said in a welcome address read at the occasion by the Vice President of Finance, Anthony Agbo.
Dr. Ensign also emphasized AUN’s collaborative partnership with local religious and community leaders under the Adamawa Peace Initiative which it helped form in January 2012.
“AUN-API has been deeply involved in peace building, using sports, skills training, and other such personal development activities to engage the youthful and the vulnerable from the surroundings, thus preventing them from joining Boko Haram.”
“As we have seen in north eastern Nigeria and Adamawa state in particular, refugees are not just those confined to government designated camps, there are primarily living with the general population putting pressure on the already diminished resources of their hosts. Aside from what AUN was already doing in the IDP camps, the university took on an the additional responsibility of supporting our people hosting IDPs.
“AUN has a founding mandate to light a candle rather than curse the darkness. This mandate was drawn from the vision of our Founder who thought a university is not necessarily an ivory tower, but must be involved in solving problems in our community.
“When the population of Yola exploded as a result of influx of refugees from the countryside, AUN-API was among the first few organizations that were considered credible to reach the needy with supplies. In partnership with the Adamawa Peace Initiative and other well-meaning Nigerians, we went on mobilizing food, men, and material for the upkeep of the IDPs, feeding more than 270,000 at one point in the crisis. AUN-API helped to bring the plight of the Adamawa displaced persons to international attention”, the President said.
The event, organized by the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), was attended by several dignitaries representing the government and private sectors, as well as the donor-agencies.
The Adamawa State Deputy Governor, Martins Babale, joined President Ensign and other speakers in praising UNHCR for marking the World Refugee Day in one of the locations where the insurgency forced mass displacements.
The UNHCR representative in Nigeria and ECOWAS, Angele Dikongue-Atangana, also acknowledged the generosity that AUN, as well as numerous individuals, families and communities, have shown to IDPs. “These ordinary people see refugees not as beggars, or competitors for jobs, or as terrorists, but as people like you or me whose lives have been disrupted by war.”
This year’s International Refugee Day at the American University of Nigeria also featured a solidarity walk for refugees, display of waste-to-wealth souvenirs made by IDPs and their hosts who underwent skill training and financial literacy seminars facilitated by AUN and international donor agencies.