Nigerian Schoolgirls Kidnapped by Boko Haram Rejoin Families

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ABUJA, Nigeria — Eighty-two Nigerian schoolgirls released several weeks ago after more than three years in Boko Haram captivity were reunited with their families on Saturday, as anxious parents looked for signs of how deeply their daughters might have changed in the hands of the extremists.

Images from the scene showed brightly dressed family members rushing through the crowd and embracing one another outdoors. One small group of people sank to their knees, with a woman raising her hands as if praising in church. Some were in tears.

“I am really happy today — I am Christmas and New Year,” said Godiya Joshua, whose daughter Esther was among those freed. “I am very happy and I thank God.”

The families were reunited in the capital, Abuja, where the girls were taken by Nigerian authorities after their release early this month.

It was the largest liberation of hostages since 276 schoolgirls were abducted from their boarding school in Chibok in 2014. Five Boko Haram commanders were exchanged for the girls’ freedom, and Nigeria’s government has said it would make further exchanges to bring the 113 remaining schoolgirls home.

“We have trust in this government — definitely they will rescue the rest safely and back to us alive,” said Yakubu Nkeki, a community leader.

The mass abduction in April 2014 brought international attention to the Boko Haram insurgency in northern Nigeria. It led to a global Bring Back Our Girls campaign that drew the backing of some celebrities, as well as of Michelle Obama. Thousands of people have been kidnapped during the extremists’ eight-year insurgency, and more than 20,000 have been killed.

The release of the 82 schoolgirls this month followed the release of 21 other girls in October. Nigeria’s government has acknowledged negotiating with Boko Haram for their release, with mediation help from the Swiss government and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The two groups of freed schoolgirls reunited earlier Saturday, Nigeria’s Channels TV reported. It showed the young women laughing and embracing.

After the latest release, many families in the remote Chibok community had been waiting for word on whether their daughters were among them. A government list of names circulated, and parents were asked to confirm the freed girls’ identities through photos.

Both groups of freed girls have been in government care in the capital as part of a nine-month reintegration program that President Muhammadu Buhari has said he will oversee personally. Human rights groups have criticized the government for keeping the young women so long in the capital, far from their homes.