Boko Haram releases 82 Nigerian schoolgirls back to their families

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It’s been more than three years since Boko Haram extremists abducted 276 Chibok schoolgirls from their boarding school in 2014. Finally, 82 of those girls were reunited with their families on Saturday in the Nigerian capital city of Abuja.

Families dressed in colorful garments embraced with tears and smiles, some literally sinking to their knees with relief at having their daughters return home while others danced with glee and praised God.

“I am really happy today, I am Christmas and New Year, I am very happy and I thank God,” said mother Godiya Joshua, whose daughter Esther was among the group of girls who have turned into women after an unimaginable experience.

Five commanders from the extremist group were exchanged for the girls’ freedom in what is being called the largest liberation of hostages since their kidnapping, and Nigeria’s government has promised to make further exchanges to bring the rest of those schoolgirls home.

“Our joy is never complete until we see the complete 113, because one Chibok girl matters to all Chibok people,” said a parent of one of the freed schoolgirls, Yahi Bwata.

Most of the girls were Christians when they were kidnapped, but during their capture, many were forced to marry extremists and gave birth to children. Others have been so radicalized that they have refused to return. Sadly, others will never return, since a few were used to conduct suicide bombings.

Back in April of 2014, the girls’ abduction brought international attention to Boko Haram’s violent activities in northern Nigeria, inspiring celebrities to launch a global “Bring Back Our Girls” campaign, which was ultimately futile. Thousands more people have been kidnapped during the extremists’ eight-year insurgency, and more than 20,000 have been murdered.

Back in October, 21 of the schoolgirls were released. The release of the 82 schoolgirls this month shows that Nigeria’s government has been negotiating with Boko Haram. They receive mediation help from the Swiss government and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The two groups of freed schoolgirls were brought back together earlier on Saturday. Television news reports showed the ebullient young women laughing and hugging each other.

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