The Nigerian army rescued a group of approximately 700 women and children last week from the grasp of Islamist fighters in northern Nigeria’s Sambisa Forest. The released prisoners were transported to a refugee camp in the Nigerian town of Yola, where they will be given medical attention and safeguarded by authorities.
The prisoners told tales of horror from their time in Boko Haram’s captivity, including the murder of boys and men, as well as death from disease and starvation.
“They didn’t allow us to move an inch,” said a rescued woman, Asabe Umaru. “If you needed the toilet, they followed you. We were kept in one place. We were under bondage.”
Another freed captive, Cecilia Abel, told of the killing of her husband and son before her eyes, and her subsequent forced displacement to the forest. “We were fed only ground dry maize in the afternoons. It was not good for human consumption,” she recalled. “Many of us that were captured died in Sambisa Forest. Even after our rescue about 10 died on our way to this place.”
Upon arriving at the refugee camp, the prisoners were fed and screened by doctors. Nineteen were sent to the hospital for special attention, reported Dr. Mohammed Aminu Suleiman, of the Adamawa State Emergency Management Agency.
Amnesty International estimates that the Boko Haram militants have, until today, captured more than 2,000 women and girls. These women are subsequently used as sex slaves, servants or human shields.
The latest rescue effort is part of the Nigerian army’s ongoing campaign to win back swathes of territory from the fighters. While in 2014, Boko Haram controlled an area larger than the country of Belgium, a counter-attack launched in January has pushed them into Sambisa, a nature reserve.