Chadian Qur'anic students known locally as “Almajiri” are fleeing Boko Haram related violence in northern Nigeria to return to their country.
Most are now reunited with their parents, the International Organization for Migration and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) say.
About 575 of the 1,000 migrants who fled Nigeria were children, mostly unaccompanied by their parents, and traveling with their marabout, or Qur'anic teacher.
On fleeing Nigeria the migrants stay in villages in and around N’Gouboua in the Lac region of western Chad, where local families, the local authorities and aid agencies gve them food, shelter and education materials.
Since March 2012, UNICEF, the Chadian Red Cross and the Ministry of Social Action have reunited 340 children with their families in 48 villages, according to IRIN (Integrated Regional Information Networks).
UNICEF and the local authorities are still searching for the families of the remaining children, who may otherwise end up returning to Nigeria with their marabouts, according to Bakary Sogoba, head of Child Protection for UNICEF in Chad.
Several Qur'anic schools in Northeastern Nigeria have a very good reputation, he noted, while stressing that children are best-protected in their family structures.
Thousands of families across West Africa send their children away to learn the Qur'an under the guidance of a religious teacher or imam. While some schools have decent reputations, the unaccompanied minors often spend much of their day begging rather than learning; they receive little to no health care, get inadequate food, and face abuse, according to an April 2010 Human Rights Watch report entitled Off the Backs of Children.
Authorities across West Africa fear that there is now a risk that Qur'anic schools may be infiltrated with Boko Haram-inspired ideology.
Agencies and the Ministry of Social Action in Chad plan to monitor each child’s progress once he or she has been reunited with their family, as the process can be difficult: many children were initially sent away as their family could not afford to raise them in the first place.