Nigeria Refugee Crisis: Two Women, a Shared Fate

Nigeria Refugee Crisis: Two Women, a Shared Fate

11/17/17

Gambo and Hadja both fled Northern Nigeria with their children to seek shelter and peace in Niger. Their lives are put on hold.

 

Gambo Moussa

“How old are you?” The woman chuckles and responds with a smile: “37, I think. Last time someone asked that question, I said 50 and people thought that was too old. So now I am 37.”

Gambo Moussa sits on a mat surrounded by blankets, mosquito nets, buckets and other relief items. She chats with Ibrahim Boukari who manages CARE’s emergency response in the Eastern region of Diffa in Niger. Today, CARE organized a distribution of relief items provided by the UN Refugee Agency and Gambo’s family is one of 186 households in the village of Chetimari benefitting from this aid.

Gambo is originally from Niger but has lived in Northern Nigeria for more than eight years. Her husband worked in cattle trade and they lived a humble life. When armed groups intensified attacks on towns and villages in Northern Nigeria last year, over 100,000 people fled to neighboring Niger. Many of them are returnees like Gambo, and wish to stay here. Niger, a West African country in the heart of the Sahel belt, holds the sad record of being the poorest country in the world according to the UN Human Development Index. Sharing 1,500 kilometers of border with Nigeria, Niger is now sharing its already scarce resources with refugees from its neighbor country. Prone to recurring droughts and food insecurity, the host communities of Niger struggle to cope with this influx.

“It was a Monday and I was taking a shower," says Gambo when asked about the day she fled the town of Damassak in Nigeria. “There was dust everywhere, birds were flying in panic, people ran in all directions.” Gambo took her three children and fled with nothing but the clothes they had on them. Her husband was not at home when she left and she hasn’t had any news from him. A shadow turns over Gambo’s face, “I am sure he is dead.”

Here in Chetimari, Gambo makes a living by cooking mush and selling it at the local market. “My three children shared one blanket up to now. With these relief items, I can give them each their own blanket. Two of them will also have their own mosquito net and I will share one with my youngest daughter who is 3 years old. The kids will be very happy to see what I bring home.”

 

Hadja Zeina Mahamadou

When Hadja Zeina Mahamadou is asked how many children she has, she gives two answers. “This is my eighth pregnancy,” she says, looking at her large belly. “But it will be my fourth child. I have lost four.” When Hadja is then asked to describe her life in the village of Chetimari in Eastern Niger, she also struggles to find the right words: “Life? You cannot call this a life. We are ok here, we don’t complain. But this is not a life.”

The 30-year-old woman comes from Damassak, a town in Northern Nigeria. She worked as a tailor and had spent a few years in Saudi Arabia with her mother as a migrant worker. Her husband was a local politician in Nigeria. “I was married at the age of 15 and never attended school,” she says. Her baby is expected any day now and she gets prenatal examinations in Chetimari. Hadja is happy about the relief items but says that she is concerned about the amount of food they have. “We definitely need rice.” Ultimately, Hadja wishes to return to Saudi Arabia to make money and live a healthier life. In the meantime, with the support of aid agencies like CARE, she can manage to survive in exile and wait for the situation in Nigeria to calm down.

 

CARE's Work

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 more than 72,000 people across the region of Diffa in Niger.

 

Originally published 5/5/15 at www.care.org.

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