A decade of conflict in northeastern Nigeria has left almost 22,000 people missing, the most in any country worldwide where the International Committee of the Red Cross registers missing persons.
Nigeria’s northeast has been ravaged by Islamist militants since 2009. While the army recently said it’s gotten the situation largely under control, attacks still occur weekly and large swathes of the area remain inaccessible to humanitarian organizations. The conflict has forced an estimated two million people to flee their homes.
“Families are the greatest casualty of 10 years of war in northeast Nigeria,” ICRC President Peter Mauer said in a statement Thursday after a five-day visit to the West African nation. “They have been torn apart.”
Almost 60% of those missing were children at the time of their registration. The ICRC works with the Nigeria Red Cross and other Red Cross and Red Crescent societies in the region to trace missing people by showing photographs, calling out names and going door-to-door in camps and communities.
Only 367 cases have been solved since the organization received its first cases in 2013, it said. Missing-persons cases remain open until either the Red Cross and Red Crescent network finds out what happened or the family reports back that they found the person.
The militants are loyal to Boko Haram, which has killed tens of thousands of people in the past decade, and a breakaway faction loyal to Islamic State. At their peak, they controlled a territory the size of Belgium and helped orchestrate attacks in neighboring Cameroon, Chad and Niger.