A NIGERIAN couple taking refuge in the North-East after fleeing their violent homeland have spoken of their fear for more than 200 kidnapped schoolgirls.

The couple, who did not want to be photographed or reveal their surname for fear of reprisal, are terrified at the thought of what is happening to the teenagers, who disappeared after being dragged from their beds at a boarding school in the north of the country last month.

Like the girls, Lucinda has known terror at the hands of masked men. She said she had a gun pointed to her head and her young children were made to lie on the ground to await their fate before fleeing to England.

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Larry, 46, her husband of 15 years, said they were praying for the girls’ safety but were afraid they would be used as sex slaves.

The couple said kidnappings in exchange for money were rife in Nigeria and they knew of youngsters who had killed themselves following the stigma of being raped.

“The Nigerian Government said nothing about the kidnappings for two weeks but it has now been embarrassed by the international Twitter campaign #BringBackOurGirls,” said the 41-year-old mother of four.

“The Islamist militant group Boko Haram that has admitted taking the girls does not want women to have an education, be confident or have a voice. The country needs more security but there are not enough police. This is a country where there are private jets but no air ambulances.”

The couple fled Nigeria following the birth of their second child, a daughter, as it is traditional in Larry’s family for girls to be circumcised. Determined that his powerless child should not undergo Female Genital Mutilation like his wife had endured, they are seeking asylum.

Larry, a qualified social worker and Lucinda, a health assistant, are unable to earn money until their status has been decided so volunteer at the North of England Volunteer Service and Citizens’ Advice Bureau.

Having settled in Teesside exactly a year ago, their children are excelling in the classroom and on the sports field but have been made aware of their African heritage.

“Our 12-year-old girl was crying when she watched the news showing the video of the kidnapped girls because she knows that could have been her,” Lucinda added.

“ She also cries because she might have to go home one day. She said she has made friends for life here and all she wants is to keep going to school in Middlesbrough.”