More than 20 Nigerian “Chibok girls” who were released by the Islamist group Boko Haram in October after Switzerland and the International Red Cross made a deal have rejoined their families for Christmas.
It is the girls’ first return home since they were kidnapped from their school in Chibok in April 2014. Since their release, the girls have been held in a secret location for debriefing by the Nigerian government.
Many of the Chibok girls were Christian, but were encouraged to convert to Islam and to marry their kidnappers during their time in captivity. Some were whipped for refusing to marry, but otherwise they were well treated and fed, until food supplies recently ran short
After the deal in October, the girls’ captors announced that any girl who wanted to be released should line up. One of the girls, Ms Goni was ill and too exhausted to move as the others scrambled into formation – but she soon learned she would be among the lucky few to leave.
“I was surprised when they announced that my name was on the list,” she said. Her joy was lessened, however, when she was forced to leave behind her cousin Margaret, with whom she had lived since childhood.
The young woman was interviewed at her family’s home in the northern city of Yola, surrounded by her father, stepmother, five siblings, and several neighbours.
“Some of the other girls left behind started crying,” Ms Goni said. “But the Boko Haram men consoled them, telling them that their turn to go home would come one day.”
Before the girls’ release, there had only been one confirmed release of a student kidnapped from Chibok.