Tuesday, June 07, 2011

The shattered life of a young refugee

This morning I was spending the morning at my good friend Miriama’s hut, like I do every week. There was a young woman there (only 24 years old) who had two children with her.


Her beautiful little girl Aichatou was just over 2 years old and her son Lamine is 5. I learned that she had just arrived from Libya, where she fled the bombing of where she lived in Tripoli. There are many Tuaregs who live in Libya and the mass exodus of refugees is causing a severe strain on Niger, already one of the world’s poorest countries.

So briefly lets catch up on what is happening there- and how it affects us here in Niger and the sad story of this one young lady.

Tens of thousands of people have crossed south into Niger from Libya in the past few months. Many of these are nationals of Niger, so their trip is a homecoming of sorts. Estimates of the human stream into Niger vary, but several tallies place the number at around 60,000 persons who have traveled from Libya to Niger since February. AFP puts the number of refugees who have entered Niger from the Libya and Cote d’Ivoire crises combined at 93,000. Another source puts the estimate differently: 1,000 people are coming into Niger every day, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Some sources say the arrivals are now decreasing somewhat, but that the demographic profile of the refugees is changing: men are now bringing their wives and children with them, indicating a more permanent return.

Whatever the number of refugees is, it’s large, and it’s placing major strains on Niger’s government and on the refugees themselves.

I kid you not, she came on a huge truck, with hundreds of people, just like this photo:



In addition to food shortages in Niger, that are only exacerbated by the increase in people, the economy has been affected in other ways, as refugees have lost their incomes and their families in Niger have lost needed remittances. The people in Libya were the breadwinners supporting their families here in Niger, and now that is gone. The economic woes of refugees are causing crime. A good friend of ours who is the Country Director for Concern International says crime is really on the rise, especially in cities in the North. Migrants who have fled the conflict in Libya to return to Niger say they are having to beg, steal, or sell off remaining animals or plots of land just to survive.

These hardships help explain why some refugees still inside Libya do not want to go home, even though they are in a war zone in Tripoli, Misrata or Bengazi.

As this young lady told me,  The journey was difficult, the arrival no less so. She came with only one small suitcase. She left everything else she owned behind. If the stories are correct, her and her husband would have had many hassles, checkpoints and bribes to pay to get to Niger. And yet that’s not the worst of it. When she arrived this week, they struggled to find a place to live. Her parents are both dead. And then yesterday, her husband walked away. He dropped her off at a cousins, said the required “I divorce you” three times, and walked away a free man, to start his own new life in Niger. So now this young lady is not only a refugee and mom of two young children, she is doing it alone. My fury at her good for nothing husband is obvious, but really I can’t dwell on him. She is the one I met, living with Miriama for a few days (weeks? months?) while she figures out her life.

How are we able to respond to something like this? Clearly the refugee problem is way huger than anything I can manage, hand out, solve or even dream of having a big impact on. But can I help her? She is symbolic of so many people, so many young women in the same situation. And I am sure she won’t be the last one I meet either.

So I can help her get on her feet with some blankets, cooking pots, clothing, mosquito nets and soap for example, but my biggest desire is to give her hope. I don’t have a solution. I don’t have a hut for her, a job for her or a husband would should have supported her. All I can give is my love and a little start up kit. I know it’s not enough in terms of how hard her life is right now, but it’s all I’ve got.


Her daughter Aichatou, with her hilarious smile for the camera, oblivious to her shattered world around her.



Linda said...

My heart breaks at what is happening there.We hear/read the big picture each day on the news but you have made this very personal. I pray daily for such people, and I pray, too, for people like you who live and work and minister on the cutting edge. God bless you.


Tim and Richelle said...

so sad... so true... so hard...

i hate that powerless feeling of no matter what i do, it could never be enough.

beautiful photos. i so appreciated what you've shared here and how you shared it.