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Saturday 25 June 2022

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A group of woman wait for the arrival of a United Nations convoy near the village of Sabon Machi, Maradi region, Niger on Aug. 16, 2018.

MARADI REGION, NIGER — The west African country of Niger hosts more than 303,000 refugees and asylum-seekers, most fleeing violence from neighboring Nigeria.

In the southern Maradi region, the U.N.’s refugee agency (UNHCR) and aid group Save the Children have set up camps to help refugees stay safe from the border while also easing the burden on their host community.

At a dusty playground at Garin Kaka refugee camp in southern Niger, young children spin on a merry-go-round and clamber on a metal climbing frame.

The camp, in a patch of scrubland in southern Niger, is home to around 4,000 refugees who have fled violence from Islamist militants and bandits in neighboring Nigeria.

It’s one of three camps the U.N.’s refugee agency set up in Niger’s Maradi region since 2019 as what it calls an “opportunity village.”

Refugees at these camps, the first of their kind in Niger, have been moved further from the border, for their safety, and both the refugees and the local population receive aid.

The idea of giving aid to locals is to reduce their burden from the refugee population and ease any tensions that might otherwise arise from competing for resources.

Refugee women are also given small grants to set up shops so they can take care of their families.

Forty-two-year-old Nigerian Hanetou Ali fled her village three years ago on foot with her 11 children after Islamist militants attacked and began killing her neighbors.

She said when militants chased them, she and her family ran. But militants caught a man and his wife, Ali said, and cut him to pieces. You could see the blood streaming, she said, and people had to collect the pieces to bury him.

Safe in the camp since 2019, Ali used a grant to set up shop selling vegetables, salt, and cooking oil.

Aid group Save the Children runs services in the camp.

The group’s Ilaria Manunza said it’s just as important to support refugees as it is the locals, who are under increasing pressure from climate change.

"We also believe the host population still needs and requires some support, so we cannot forget about the host population, the fact they were hugely welcoming and supportive of the refugees," Manunza said. "Therefore, all our interventions should always target both the population of refugees and the host populations."

Aid groups hope refugees in the so-called Opportunity Villages will eventually become self-sufficient.

But some of the refugee women say they are unable to grow their business because there is not enough demand for their services in the camp.

Forty-year-old Nigerian mother of six Jameela Salifou also arrived in Garin Kaka camp three years ago after armed men attacked her village.

She makes a living mending clothes with a sewing machine.

Salifou said sometimes they make enough money to buy cassava flour, but it is not every day that they have business. She said this is how they survive; with the small amount (of money) they get, they manage because they are proud of their business. Salifou said if she earns something, she can use it to not only buy food but also to protect the dignity of her family.

The U.N.’s refugee agency (UNHCR) said conflict in northwestern Nigeria has forced more than 80,000 Nigerians to flee to Niger’s Maradi region. Nearly 18,000 refugees have been moved into the three camps with the Opportunity Village model.

Aid groups said if the model is successful in helping the refugees to integrate and start news lives, they could soon be set up in other countries in the region.

FILE - A woman who fled the violent rebellion in Central African Republic (CAR) sits with her family as they wait for their identification process in the border town of Garoua Boulai, Cameroon Jan. 7, 2021.

NGAM, CAMEROON — Cameroon hosts about 460,000 refugees and asylum-seekers, most of them women and children who escaped violence in the Central African Republic and Nigeria. But while they have found safety in Cameroon, women refugees are not always welcomed by locals, and struggle to survive.

Thirty-five-year-old Mairama Abba cleans her goat house at the Ngam refugee settlement on Cameroon's eastern border with the Central African Republic, CAR.

Abba said she fled armed conflicts in the CAR in March 2015, after her husband and two children were killed in a crossfire between rebels and government troops.

Abba said she and her remaining two children live peacefully at the Ngam refugee settlement in northern Cameroon and are not considering going back to their war- ravaged village called Nyem in the north of the CAR. Abba said money she raises from the sale of chicken and sheep enables her to feed her children and to take care of the children's health needs.

Abba said her first two years in Cameroon were among the most difficult in her life, as she and her children would go without food and water for days. She said the U.N. Children's Fund in 2016 saved her children from dying of malnutrition.

The U.N. and humanitarian agencies say Abba is one of at least 350 women and girls in the Ngam refugee settlement who have since been trained to be self-reliant.

Ohandja Claire Lydie is an official of a charity, the International Medical Corps. She said besides healthcare services, her organization provides training that help refugee women and girls to become less dependent on aid.

She said several hundred refugee women and girls now know embroidery, how to make soap, sew dresses and raise animals at home. She said before training, the women are educated on self-reliance and psychologically prepared to save incomes that will enable the women to improve their living conditions and take good care of their families when they start working.

The World Bank and the U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, have been providing what they call targeted support for refugees in the form of cash, under a program called social safety nets.

Amma Koutok said she was given $70 from the safety nets scheme in 2018. She said she invested the money in selling palm oil and salt to refugees and Ngam villagers.

Koutok said she saved $300 in three years and bought a maize and rice flour grinding machine. She said their camps women association, assisted by the World Bank and UNICEF has been instrumental in improving the living conditions of refugee women especially widows and women who do not know if their husbands are dead or alive.

Host communities complain that refugees steal food and cattle, provoke conflicts over water resources, lodging and farmlands and cut down trees for firewood.

Helen Ngoh is communication associate of UNHCR Cameroon. She said on this year's World Refugee Day, UNHCR attempted to persuade host communities to sympathize with the refugees.

"Greater majority of Central African Refugees, about 330,000 Central African refugees are still here and they have safety here in Cameroon. If you are forced to flee your home, you should be able to find safety, so this year's theme (of World Refugee Day) is drawing attention to the importance of people who are forced to flee their homes to be able to have safety," said Ngoh.

Speaking on Cameroon state broadcaster CRTV, Ngoh refugees from both the CAR and Nigeria are scared to return home because of violence in their native countries.

Meanwhile, UNHCR says less than 15%of the $154 million needed this year to help displaced Nigerians and Central Africans has been raised.

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