Fleeing violence attributed to the Islamist sect Boko Haram in Nigeria, thousands of people have found refuge in Niger, where they are receiving assistance from WFP and other humanitarian organizations.
GUESSERE, DIFFA REGION - A river separates Gachakara, a village in Nigeria, from Guesséré, a village just across the border in Niger were thousands have found refuge. The majority are Nigerian, though some are Nigerien who had been living on the other side of the border for many years.
Since 2013, the population in Gachakara has been the target of violent attacks attributed to the group Boko Haram. Yagan Kiari, 35 and mother of seven children, was living there until “armed men attacked, looted and burned stores and homes,” she explains. “Many people died.”
Population doubled in Guesséré
The community has suffered four attacks in three months. “After each attack, the assailants promised to return, and they always did. We couldn’t take it anymore and were forced to leave,” explains Danwa Murima, one of Gachakara’s patriarchs.
Today Gachakara is nearly empty. Those who were able have taken refuge on the other side of the river, doubling the population of Guesséré, home to 1,000 people before the crisis.
The first arrivals found a few empty homes, their former occupants having left for seasonal work in urban areas or neighboring countries. Others are staying with host families. “The people of Guessere have been very welcoming. They gave us something to eat and a place to stay. Humanitarian organizations are also helping us,” says Yagana Kiari, one of the first people to cross the border.
Since the start of the crisis in 2013, WFP has been providing food and nutritional assistance to refugees. Assistance includes general food distributions and the distribution of specialized nutritional products for children less than two years of age and pregnant and nursing women.
WFP has started providing assistance that will reach 24,000 people in May, including host populations who already live in precarious conditions and are affected by food insecurity. After the rainy season, households that meet selection criteria will also participate in projects that promote self-sufficiency—including construction of ponds, recovery of degraded land and rehabilitation of rural road networks—through which they will work in exchange for food or cash.
The influx continues
WFP remains concerned, however, by the growing number of people crossing the border to find refuge in a region already affected by food insecurity.
“WFP-Niger has the operational capacity to increase assistance for refugees and returnees in Diffa. However, we are facing a lack of financial resources that limits our interventions, particularly with the approach of the lean season, when conditions worsen,” says Benoit Thiry, WFP Representative in Niger.
For now, refugees like Yagana Kiari are not counting on returning to Nigeria, fearing more attacks.
“I feel like part of the community here. I’m doing well with petty trade, and I don’t want to leave anymore,” she says.
As long as violence continues in northern Nigeria, refugees will be unlikely to return, and, as the humanitarian community fears, their numbers will continue to rise.