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Between May 1966 and January 1970, millions of Ndigbo were made to become refugees in their fatherland. The first wave of refugees came to the East from all parts of the Nigerian Federation in the wake of massacres that were unleashed on Ndigbo who resided outside the then Eastern Region. Most hurriedly abandoned places where they had resided all their lives without even any clothes on their backs. Some fled in panic without being able to locate the rest of their families.

The next wave of refugees fled from their ancestral hometowns inside Biafra to stay out of the range of the artillery guns of the federal troops that were advancing from the north, west and south. Again, many people fled their homes leaving all their possessions behind except for what they could carry on their heads. Millions had to trek for days, without food and clean water, to makeshift refugee camps which were mostly village primary school buildings. Without food and money, these internal refugees had to eke out a living by any means they could. To avert severe malnutrition, cassava leaves and grass featured prominently in many refugees’ diets. Exposure to the elements of weather and lack of sanitary facilities resulted in rampant epidemics which brought about the untimely deaths of several hundreds of thousands, especially children and the very old.

As the war intensified, savage and indiscriminate aerial bombing campaigns were unleashed by federal troops who utilized the services of Egyptian and Russian mercenary pilots to terrorize civilian populations inside Biafra. Urban centers like Aba, Umuahia and Owerri were bombarded daily from the air. The only air link to the outside world for Biafra, the Uli Airport, was daily attacked by Nigerian war planes to ensure that relief flights were totally disrupted.
Of all the indignations of the Biafra War, being made to be refugees in one’s own fatherland was the most humiliating to Ndigbo. Igbos were stripped bare and left to die like flies as they fought for survival for more than 30 months while the world looked on.

Osondu
The Survival Struggle for Ndiigbo

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