Niger: “They need somewhere to settle in peace to regain their dignity”

Interview with Aissami Abdou, MSF field coordinator in Diffa

Interview with Aissami Abdou, MSF field coordinator in Diffa, south-east Niger, about the situation of the thousands of people who fled from Lake Chad at the beginning of May

How is the current situation of the population that fled from Lake Chad?

The situation is critical; most of them are settled around two camps, one in Bosso and another one in Nguigmi, two towns located near the lake. Some of them are still around some other villages not far from the lake. They came out from the islands after the evacuation order from the authorities, following the violent attack of Boko Haram on Karamga Island on 25 April, where many Niger soldiers were killed and some were declared missing. Then, they settled randomly as fast as they could to save their lives and did not prepare for anything.

According to the numbers provided by the regional authorities, around 11,200 persons arrived in Nguigmi while 13,000 arrived in Bosso from the islands in the first week of May. Moreover, some 15,000 were sent to Gaidam town, in northern Nigeria, via a transit site in Diffa.

What is MSF doing to assist this population?

MSF started medical activities in the first days following the movements of the population, on top of its existing activities in the region. Currently, we have one team in the Kimegana camp (in Nguigmi) and another team in the Yebbi camp (Bosso), offering free medical consultation to all, giving priority to children under five years of age and women.

We are also continuing to support the regional referral centre for women and children in Diffa, and the health centres in Geskerou, Ngarwa and Nguigmi, in collaboration with Ministry of Health.  And we are planning to start providing new support very soon for two additional health centres in Baroua and Toumour, two locations in Bosso district.

The government is planning to relocate the displaced population; for instance, those in Kimegana camp are to be moved to Kablewa as the current site is too close to the waterway of the river. Therefore, we will adapt our intervention to continue assisting this population.

What are the most important needs of this population?

The main needs are shelter, water, sanitation, health and protection. However, there are still a few organisations working in the area and most of them remain around Diffa and Nguigmi, where the situation is less critical in term of access and security.

In Bosso, the ICRC is currently doing a distribution of food and non-food items to the displaced population in Yebbi. However, MSF is the only NGO with an operational presence every day in the camp with a team based there to offer constant access to primary healthcare. We refer many patients to Bosso and Diffa every day to save their lives.

What is the profile of these people who fled from Lake Chad?

Many of the displaced population are from Nigeria and Niger, although the islands also have people from other nationalities such as Chad, Cameroon and Mali.

Most of the patients we receive at the health centre are traumatised by long-standing violence from Boko Haram. Some of them have moved many times from Nigeria to Chad and Niger. Many came from areas in Malanfatori, Damasak and Baga before the current movement from the islands.

Some of them lost their family members and their belongings they just need somewhere to settle in peace to regain their dignity and access to basic social services.

What are the challenges of assisting this population?

One of the main challenges is security; the zone is close to Lake Chad where the multinational forces are conducting military operations against Boko Haram. Another challenge is access; the zone is sandy and although it is very hot nowadays – it easily gets above 450 Celsius and you need to keep drinking all day – the rainy season will start soon and when the Komadougou river floods its banks there will be a lot of mud on the road.

What are the main concerns for the future?

We are very concerned about the coming weeks and months as some rainfall is expected soon, and with the displaced population defecating in the open due to insufficient sanitation facilities, we may not be spared from cholera. There is a water shortage in the camp, and currently the displaced population has very limited access to protection. Also, with the ongoing fight against Boko Haram and terrorism there is a need to keep an eye on human rights concerns.