Nigerian parents reunites with their children who were in captivity

Parents of more than 130 Nigerian schoolchildren who were rescued after more than two weeks in captivity said they saw them on Wednesday and that they couldn’t hold back tears of joy during the long-awaited reunion.

The meeting, three days after the children were freed, took place at a government facility in the city of Kaduna, where the children are staying while receiving medical support, the parents and a teacher told The Associated Press.

The parents said they cried and danced as they hugged their children for the first time since March 7, when motorcycle-riding gunmen seized them from their school in the remote town of Kuriga in the northwestern Kaduna state, and forced them to march to nearby forests amid gunfire.

“I am very happy and filled with joy,” Shittu Abdullahi, whose 14-year-old daughter was among those kidnapped, said after the meeting.

It was unclear when the children — who range in years from under 10 to 15 — would be allowed to go home. The local authorities have not responded to queries from the AP about the case. The parents said the government has promised to do so this week.

One staff member who was taken along with the 137 students died in captivity, military officials have said.

Ibrahim Mikalu said he broke down in tears as he embraced his 13-year-old daughter and added that the rest of the family are eager to see her home.

Freed by the Nigerian military on Sunday from a forest about 200 kilometers (20 miles) to the north in neighboring Zamfara state, the schoolchildren have been receiving medical support from the military and the government.

Their abduction was one of several mass school abductions that have shaken the West African nation in recent years. Authorities said no ransom was paid for the Kuriga children’s freedom but have provided no details of the rescue or said whether any suspected kidnappers were arrested.

No group has claimed responsibility for their kidnapping, which locals and authorities have blamed on bandit groups known for mass killings and kidnappings for ransom in the country’s conflict-battered north.

Arrests are rare as most victims are released only after ransom payments by their families or through deals that sometimes involve the release of gang members. The government, however, does not admit to such deals.

At least 1,400 students have been kidnapped from Nigerian schools since the 2014 kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls by Boko Haram militants in the village of Chibok in Borno state shocked the world. 

In recent years, abductions have been concentrated in the country’s conflict-battered northwestern and central regions, where dozens of armed groups often target villagers and travellers for ransom.

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