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Parents of Chibok schoolgirls wait to be reunited

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Eighty-two Chibok schoolgirls who were released from Boko Haram captivity after more than three years face a wait to be reunited with their families, a town elder said on Wednesday.

Yakubu Nkeki, head of the Abducted Chibok Girls Parents’ group, said parents of the girls would only be able to see their daughters once government approval was given.

“This may take some time, as the girls are now undergoing medical and mental evaluation to ensure they are in the best of condition,” he told AFP.

“We don’t mind waiting… Their health and wellbeing is paramount to us and such evaluation takes time, especially with such a huge number of girls.”

The 82 were released on Saturday after months of talks, in exchange for a number of suspected Islamist militant fighters in government custody.

A total of 276 girls were seized in April 2014 from the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok, Borno State, triggering global condemnation.

Fifty-seven escaped in the hours that followed and of the 219 who remained hostages, 21 were released in a deal last October and three others have been found.

Nkeki said he had met the 82, including his niece, whom he said was “in good condition and in high spirits”. He said he established that all of those released were from the Chibok school.

Photographs of the girls have been sent to the remote town in Borno state and surrounding villages for their parents to verify their identities.

On Saturday, one of the released girls was seen on crutches and another with her arm in a sling.

Nkeki said seven of the 21 students freed previously had shrapnel wounds, which needed surgical treatment.

“Time is required to heal such wounds. The 82 girls will not be different. They will undergo the same procedure,” he added.

Presidency spokesman Garba Shehu gave an indication of the potential difficulties facing those who were freed by disclosing that one girl had refused to leave.

She declined to be part of the release deal because she had married a Boko Haram fighter. Analysts said it was likely others may have developed sympathies for their captors over time.

Thousands of women and young girls have been abducted in the eight-year insurgency, which has left at least 20,000 people dead and displaced more than 2.6 million.

Mausi Segun, from Human Rights Watch in Nigeria, said the released girls were likely to have to deal with issues such as their abduction, the effects of conflict and prolonged isolation.

“Addressing the psychological effects of captivity and the entire conflict itself is one that the Nigerian government and several humanitarian organisations have struggled with,” she said.

“The initial assessment is that existing services have reached only a few people. In addition, there are concerns about the quality and effectiveness of what has been offered.”

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