Grandi praises generosity of Niger for hosting thousands of refugees
NIAMEY, Niger – “One of the poorest countries is also one of the most generous.”
UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi was speaking of Niger.
“It has security issues, economic problems and a complex neighbourhood, but it has always kept its borders open.”
It is, Grandi said, an example to the world. He was in Niger today (June 20) to mark World Refugee Day.
Niger – an example to the world, says Grandi
Grandi had just flown from Libya with 122 refugees rescued from brutal detention and evacuated by UNHCR under an agreement with Niger. It was the 13th such flight, bringing more than 1,200 people out of hellish conditions.
The refugees evacuated from Libya are the latest among almost 328,000 people for whom Niger has become a sanctuary country. It has opened its doors and offered protection to those fleeing from conflicts in other countries as well to those internally displaced by conflicts along its border with Mali.
“Niger is an example of solidarity and generosity in a world where many states practice a policy of rejection,” the High Commissioner said.
During a meeting with Grandi in Niamey, Prime Minister Brigi Rafini reaffirmed Niger’s open-door policy for people fleeing war and persecution.
But as more countries talk of closing doors, the number of those fleeing their homes reached 68.5 million in 2017, a new record according to the latest UNHCR Global Trends report, issued on Tuesday, June 19.
Refuge in Niger is not the end of pain for many of those rescued from Libya. Psychologists working with young women and unaccompanied minors in ‘cases de passage’, or temporary accommodation centres, say 30 to 40 per cent of the young people are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). There have been suicide attempts.
Three boys – age 13, 14 and 16 – who could not be named for protection reasons talked to Grandi in harrowing terms about their ordeal.
“I left two years ago,” one boy said. “I miss my parents. It’s really difficult. I’ve seen people tortured, shot, raped. I can’t even speak about them. I can’t sleep at night.”
The memory left him in tears.
Another boy who hopes to become a singer played a song he had written on a traditional stringed instrument called a Kirar. He sang of the pain of exile in the form of a letter to his mother. “If you know what I’m going through inside, you would be disgusted by what it means to live in exile.”
At another temporary accommodation centre Grandi met Mahareet Gazaee, a young Eritrean woman of 22. She had fled her country and crossed the Sahara only to be seized and held by smugglers in Libya for a year.
“What I went through I will never forget,” she said later. “I was tortured and beaten. And after the physical suffering, there is now mental and psychological suffering. I still feel it.”
Her friend Salam was raped in a camp. She gave birth to a son just before being evacuated to Niger. Her life is now centred on the future of her baby.
“I really hope he will be a full human being and live in a better state of mind than me.”
Now the friends live in a sort of limbo, waiting for months in Niger and hoping to be resettled in Europe.
Grandi said that limbo has to be addressed by European countries.
“What concerns me is that there are a lot of offers of resettlement,” he said. “But beyond the offers everything moves too slowly. For these people it has to go faster.”