21 of the schoolgirls abducted by Islamist militant organisation Boko Haram have been released.
270 of the girls were kidnapped from their school in Chibok, north-east Nigeria, by the group in 2014, sparking international outrage – and one of the biggest social media campaigns the world has ever seen, under the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls.
On the day of the kidnapping, 50 girls managed to escape, but since then only one has been confirmed as released – until now.
Amina Ali Nkeki, 19, was found carrying a baby in the huge Sambisa Forest in May this year by an army-backed vigilante group. With her was a member of Boko Haram, who claimed to be her husband. The man was arrested, and Ali Nkeki and her child were eventually returned to her family, but it was believed that 218 students were still missing.
But now 21 of the schoolgirls seized in 2014 have been freed, a representative of the Nigerian government has confirmed.
Garba Shehu, a spokesman for the Nigerian president, said in a statement on Twitter that “the release of the girls, in a limited number is the outcome of negotiations between the administration and the Boko Haram brokered by the International Red Cross and the Swiss government.”
He added that negotiations are continuing to ensure the release of the remaining captured girls. Almost 200 young women are still missing.
The vice president of Nigeria, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, shared an emotional post on Twitter showing some of the young women being reunited with their families. “Dawn, dusk, almost a 1000 days,” he wrote, adding: “It is my joy to welcome you home.”
The Nigerian government’s Office of Digital Engagement, meanwhile, posted a list of the freed girls’ names on Twitter.
A security official told the BBC that several top-level Boko Haram militants were freed from prison in return for the girls’ release, but this has been denied by the Nigerian government. Alhaji Lai Mohammed, Nigeria’s information minister, said that the government is confident this “credible first step” will result in the eventual release of the remaining girls, and insisted that “this is not a swap”.
“It is a release, the product of painstaking negotiations and trust on both sides,” the minister told journalists in the Nigerian capital of Abuja.
The girls will be examined by a team of doctors and psychologists, the BBC reports. It quotes the same security official as saying that most of the young women now have babies.
The Nigerian government says that more than 30,000 people have been killed during Boko Haram’s seven-year insurgency in north-east Nigeria, that has sought to create an Islamic caliphate. The group has killed thousands and their actions have displaced over two million people.
The remaining girls are believed to still be in captivity.