The 21 girls who were rescued last week after being kidnapped by the militant group Boko Haram have been reunited with their joyous families, BBC News reported. The girls had been held against their will for almost two years.
The living conditions the girls were forced to live under were atrocious, one freed girl told the British news outlet.
“We had no food for one month and 10 days but we did not die. We thank God,” she said. She added, “I was… [in] the woods when the plane dropped a bomb near me but I wasn’t hurt.”
Another girl stressed that she never believed they would be sent home alive.
“We never imagined that we would see this day but, with the help of God, we were able to come out of enslavement.”
Upon arrival on Sunday, parents of the girls tearfully celebrated in the streets and had a formal ceremony in Nigeria’s capital Abuja.
While it’s been reported that millions were paid in ransom, the actual terms and negotiations for the girls’ release are unknown to the public, but Nigerian officials say that the talks have been happening for a while.
“Already we are on phase two and we are already in discussions,” Nigeria’s Information Minister Lai Mohammed told journalists on Sunday.
“But of course you know these are very delicate negotiations, there are some promises we made also about the confidentiality of the entire exercise and we intend to keep them.”
Now, there were rumors that captured Boko Haram fighters were swapped for the girls, but officials deny those claims. However, a security guard told the BBC that four terrorist commanders had been freed from Nigerian custody before the girls were returned.
And while the return of the girls is amazing news, the girls may face stigma from their family and communities in relation to the gender violence they experienced while kidnapped.
“Tragically, the ordeal does not end when these girls and women escape or are rescued,” said Kimairis Toogood, an adviser for International Alert in Nigeria told USA Today.
“Many face rejection, and even violence, from their own families and communities due to stigma around sexual violence — especially if they return with a baby. This makes re-integration extremely difficult.“
It’s also important to emphasize that there are more girls. Currently, only 83 of the 197 girls left are being negotiated for, says CNN.