They fled a Boko Haram massacre. Now, after years in refugee camps, families return to rebuild their lives with the help of the federal government and a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development program.
The U.S. government has made significant investments to support the country’s long-term population of returnees. But while the federal government has invested billions to help displaced people, the returnees themselves often have to pick up the pieces once they’ve settled in the U.S., like when a family lost everything and tried to make a fresh start, only to face new financial difficulties soon after.
For instance, when a family returned to the U.S. from northern Nigeria, they had to navigate the government bureaucracy, and many had to pay huge sums to lawyers and charities to obtain green cards to protect them from deportation. They also went through years of separation with relatives who were deported and struggled to find new housing after the U.S. government blocked housing assistance. In the end, they found themselves living in a makeshift barracks in a refugee camp.
“We couldn’t really say goodbye to our friends,” said a returnee from Nigeria.
The United States has tried to integrate some returnees, while leaving the country’s long history with the Boko Haram insurgency to the Nigerian government. But it only helped some returnees settle legally and safely into their American lives.
In 2015, about 8,000 Boko Haram extremists killed more than 200 people in a series of bombings and shootings targeting security forces and civilians in Nigerian cities. The group was known for kidnapping schoolgirls, mostly in north Nigeria’s predominantly Muslim north.
Over 200,000 people fled the country in the wake of the violence.
The federal government is now trying to make sure that these returnees are not left to their own devices. Since the violence began, the Department of Housing and Urban Development has offered its first-ever federal support to address some of the unique needs of returnees to rebuild their lives in the U.S.
A HUD-funded program provides housing subsidies and other services directly to returnees.