By Matthew Ponsford
LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Hundreds of Nigerians who fled Boko Haram in northeast Borno State have returned to devastated towns and villages in recent days after the army seized back the militant group's last remaining strongholds, said the United Nations.
Families will return to find their homes and farmland destroyed, basic services wiped out and will live under the persistent threat of attacks by the jihadist group, Leo Dobbs, spokesman for the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"Many of the areas they are going back to have been completely devastated," said Dobbs. Homes and healthcare, agriculture, and security services are in ruin after around two years of Boko Haram rule, he added.
Despite the Nigerian army's success in driving Boko Haram out of occupied territory that 18 months ago was the size of Belgium, the militants still manage to stage regular suicide bombings in Nigeria and neighboring Chad, Niger and Cameroon.
Since 2009, more than 15,000 people have been killed, 2.3 million displaced and the local economy decimated. [nL8N1BB5JC]
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In the last week, buses organized by the state government have begun transporting people from the capital Maiduguri to the newly accessible areas, with others are returning by their own means, Dobbs said.
UNHCR has entered 10 districts of Borno in recent weeks, where 800,000 people are in need of urgent assistance, the agency said in a statement on Friday.
It said U.N. staff were scaling up operations but continue to require military escorts.
Dobbs said some farmers have even begun to work the fields, according to U.N. staff, despite the dangers of Boko Haram ambushes and uncleared explosive devices.
A Reuters reporter witnessed the devastation in Bama - one of the ten liberated districts - on Wednesday, where soldiers fired wildly from their vehicles pre-empting attacks by Boko Haram fighters, who have waged a seven-year Islamist insurgency. [nL8N1BH1NP]
The U.N. children's agency UNICEF said last month nearly half a million children were at risk of 'severe acute malnutrition' in the area around Lake Chad that has been ravaged by Boko Haram.[nL8N1BB5JC]
(Reporting by Matthew Ponsford, Editing by Ros Russell.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, traficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)