Madaoua a silent crisis and the commitment of the UNHCR to support thousands of Nigerian refugees seeking aid and protection
In the Tahoua region of Niger, refugees from Nigeria are desperately seeking protection and assistance. Despite apparent stability, a harsh reality emerges, week after week, as an increasing number of people are forced to flee. They endure grueling journeys, walking for hours, until they finally reach the first villages in Niger, where local communities welcome them warmly.
Located just 50 kilometers from the border with Nigeria, the town of Madaoua in southern Niger, has seen the arrival of more than 14,000 Nigerian refugees since the start of 2023, across various host villages.
UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency, is the only UN agency present in the region, and since November 2022, it has strengthened its commitment by opening a new office. This initiative aims to respond more effectively to the continuing influx of Nigerian refugees fleeing persistent insecurity across the border. This presence of the UNHCR and its partners makes it possible to help and bring a response to the needs of thousands of vulnerable households.
Insecurity on the border between the two countries began in 2013 when non-state armed groups started hostilities in Nigeria's northern states, including Sokoto, Zanfara and Katsina, contributing to the deterioration of the security environment.
“We fled our country two years ago, and every day we see new arrivals crossing the border, fleeing looting, kidnappings for ransom and deaths threats,” says 55 years old Fatima Youssouf, from Nigeria, who found refuge in Bangui (Niger) in 2021 with her three children. Despite her small size, this mother of 5, who was an English teacher in her country, radiates determination and audacity.
UNHCR and its partners, in collaboration with local authorities, work tirelessly to meet the needs of refugees, but also to facilitate their local, social, and economic integration, as quickly as possible. “I chair a committee of thirty women, made up of 15 refugees and 15 members of the host community,” says Fatima. Thanks to the support of UNHCR, several of us have been able to develop a small business and generate small incomes which allow us to provide for ourselves. I am grateful to Niger for allowing us to live in safety,” she confides.
Here, far from the conventional borders that we know, there are no document or passport controls. Residents along the Niger-Nigeria border live in precarious conditions, with arid and rocky land, rare rain, and the constant threat of incursions by armed groups.
Since 2021, UNHCR has registered more than 31,000 Nigerian refugees and asylum seekers who have settled in Bangui, just 2 kilometers from the border.
During the month of May, everyone is in the fields, the rain expected for months finally fall. Passing through the small village of Maikourou, farmers and their families can be seen working on preparing their land to cultivate millet and sorghum.
For many people in the area, it might look like an ordinary day. However, nearby, thousands of women, children and elderly people are gathered, waiting to receive essential items and medical assistance from UNHCR and its partners.
Salamu Aboubakar, a young woman of 35, walked for a week to reach the outskirts of Madaoua. She remembers the day when everything changed in her life: “I heard screams everywhere. With the help of my neighbor Amadou, I jumped over the wall of my house and fled with my children,” she says. “We left everything in our village, and I walked for a day with my five children to reach Maikouru. The children kept asking me where their father was. Even today, I don't know where he is. He wasn't there when we were attacked, but I had to react quickly and save my children, so we left.”
En route to Niger, they first arrived in the village of Sabon Birni, where locals helped them by providing them with a livestock transport vehicle to reach the village of Maikourou. It wasn't easy, Salamu says, but they now feel safe. “We have just received tarpaulins, mosquito nets and plastic buckets, which will allow us to go through the rainy season which has just started.”
UNHCR also works hand in hand with local authorities to provide assistance to refugees. “Our city is a place where the two communities live in peace together. Our commitment to our brothers and sisters in Nigeria allows the commune of Bangui to continue to develop. We benefit from UNHCR support for infrastructure, such as the health center, community center and schools, to meet the high demand from new arrivals. We hope to be an example of support and assistance to refugees.”, says Abdou Maidawa Ado, 42, mayor of the commune of Bangui (Niger)
Since 2020, UNHCR and its partners have put in place essential services, facilitating the integration of refugees with their hosts. However, the impact of climate change, instability at the border between Niger and Nigeria, and insecurity continue to worsen the living conditions of populations, causing an incessant flow of refugees Nigerians. UNHCR calls on its partners and the international community to intensify efforts to protect and assist these vulnerable populations and contribute to the development of this region.