Nigeria Refugee Crisis: Alive is Better Than Anything Else

Nigeria Refugee Crisis: Alive is Better Than Anything Else

11/17/17

Fana is 17 years old. But the horrors she has lived through in Nigeria are enough for a lifetime.

Gagamari used to be a quiet place. The village in the far East of Niger lies around 12 kilometers from the border with Nigeria. Here, in the heart of West Africa’s Sahel region, life evolves around the daily struggle to find enough food and water. Since late autumn of 2014, the people of Gagamari share what little they have with hundreds of refugees from Northern Nigeria who have found shelter here. Violence has forced them to leave their home and live in makeshift shelters with little protection from the blistering sun and the strong sand storms of the Sahel.

Fana Mouctar is a shy girl of 17 years. She wears a bright blue veil and timidly hides her hands underneath it when she talks. Her face possesses that particular sweet chubbiness that most young faces have before they grow more harrow and wrinkled by the daily struggles of adult life. It was the 24th of November 2014, she whispers as she recounts the day that changed her life forever. Fana’s family lived in the town of Damassak in Nigeria. It was a quiet life, with her father working as a veterinarian and a farmer. Fana and her sisters had been taken out of school since the attack on a girls’ school in Chibok earlier in 2014. Their parents were too afraid. They did not know the worst was still to come.

On that particular day in November, armed groups entered Damassak and started shooting and looting. “We heard gunshots and hid under the bed, me and my four sisters. Our father wasn’t in town; he had left to get his salary. All of a sudden, a group of men entered our house and started searching it. They were looking for young girls. And they found us.” Fana and her sisters were brought to the town hall and locked up there along with other young women and girls. On her way there, she witnessed pure horror on the streets: “They looked for all boys and men aged 11 to 30 and assembled then in the middle of a square. When everyone was lined up, they were all killed at gunpoint. One of them was my neighbor.”

Fana spent harrowing days in the town hall. Every day, at least two girls were taken out of the group and “married” to a fighter. They were given a dowry and sent off like cattle on a market. Fana however wasn’t married. The “husband” chosen for her wasn’t in town, so she was kept in a room for days and weeks. This twist of fate saved the young girl’s life. One day she woke up and started to panic, she couldn’t breathe properly and screamed and struggled. Her kidnappers sent her to a hospital for treatment. She waited for the hour of prayer and then, with the help of a neighbor whom she recognized among the guards of the hospital, she managed to escape. “Two of my sisters also escaped, they feigned pregnancy. But my other two sisters are still missing. I don’t know what has happened to them.” The two girls are 5 and 8 years old.

“Alive is better than anything else”, says Abba K. Mouctar, Fana’s father, as he joins his daughter in the conversation. He is surrounded by his other children, seven in number, all of their faces covered in dust. Abba is a proud man who used to make his own living. “Nigeria is a very powerful country. We are a nation of engineering, of farming, of innovation. Now look at us.” The family has received mattresses and some kitchen supplies, soaps and a bucket. But this is barely enough to survive. “We don’t have toilets here, we have to go to the bush”, admits Abba. “The wind is terrible and our tent is becoming very hot during the day. We are trying to get materials to build a wooden hut with a straw roof.”

With the rising influx of refugees from Nigeria to Eastern Niger, CARE has increased its efforts to support both displaced families and host communities. In Chetimari and other communities, CARE organizes distributions of food, household and hygiene items, cash and vouchers to pay for basic necessities. Across the region, our emergency teams also rehabilitate water points, provide water to a refugee camp and organize transport for those refugees who want to move from host villages to one of the two official refugee camps that have been set up more inland. As of April 2015, CARE’s support has reached over 72,000 people across the region of Diffa in Niger.

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