Forced to flee Nigeria, young refugee couple celebrate their reunion in Chad
DAR ES SALAM SITE, Chad, March 16 (UNHCR) - It was early morning in Baga, in Nigeria, when 22-year-old pregnant mother Zulaika heard the gunshots. She had just enough time to grab her two-year-old and run into the bush, before militants overran the town, massacring hundreds.
It took her four days to find a boat to cross Lake Chad. Her husband, a 34-year-old fisherman called Ali, had been spreading his nets when the attack happened. She had no idea if he had escaped.
"We spent days going from one small island to another," she recalled recently. "In the night we had nothing to cover us in the cold and there was nothing to eat. The most difficult thing for me was not knowing where my husband was and what had happened to him."
With UNHCR's help, Zulaika found shelter in Chad at the site called Dar es Salam, where several thousand Nigerian refugees like her are hosted. There, UNHCR registers all new arrivals, identifying vulnerable individuals such as older people, single females, and separated children and families.
Ali found his own way across, reaching the island of Kangalom, where UNHCR picks up refugees and takes them by boat to Bagasola town, providing food for the journey and transferring them to the Dar es Salam site. "I spent almost three weeks in the bush before reaching Kangalom in Chad," remembered Ali. "We were hungry most of the time and ate when local people along the way gave us food."
One day in early February, UNHCR facilitated the relocation of more than 80 Nigerian refugees - and among those on the boat was Ali. Zulaika remembers that day well. "They told me people had arrived from Kangalom, so I went to the camp entrance to see who was there," she said. "I couldn't believe that my husband was among those getting off the truck."
Ali, who had spent so many weeks worrying about his pregnant wife and young son, was also thrilled to find them in Dar es Salam. "We are grateful to all those who have helped us get here and find each other," he said, gazing into his wife's eyes.
Zulaika smiled. "I am very excited to have found my husband," she said. "I'm going to hold onto him so that he never disappears again." Zulaika and Ali are now celebrating their reunion and recently moved into a family shelter with their young son, also called Ali.
More than 3,800 Nigerian refugees have so far been relocated to the Dar es Salam site. UNHCR anticipates that many more will opt to be transferred to the site over the next weeks.
By Massoumeh Farman-Farmaian in Dar es Salam site, Chad