Rokia Traoré visits Burkina Faso
I am Rokia Traore, a Malian singer, songwriter and perfomer and I have come to Goudoubo camp, Burkina Faso with UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, to listen to the stories of the Malian refugees who fled their country after a conflict in the North erupted back in early 2012. There are over 34,000 Malian refugees in Burkina Faso – most of whom fled from northern Mali.
Being involved with the UN Refugee Agency feels simply like the right thing to do – to have an opportunity to shine a spotlight and help in whatever way I can is a natural reaction that all humankind has for each other.
What makes this particular situation so right is that Mali is my home and I too have felt the impact of this crisis which forced me to also change my life – though not to the extent of the refugees. I remember listening to singers when I was performing with Africa Express in Manchester and the song went “When will I go back home” and being in tears as at that time I didn’t know if it would ever be possible to build my dreams as I imagined them before the crisis.
It feels like I am about to visit relatives who are in some sort of trouble –I find it unbearable to know the ongoing misery that affects so many of my people. I want to hear what people have to say and learn about what has happened to them and try to show that we are all one. I want to try to bring their voices to decision makers who can change their lives.
We drive from Ougadougou to Dori, in northern Burkina Faso and I am greeted at the entrance to the refugee camp in Goudoubo by a line of elders and partner organisations. We walk slowly up the line shaking hands with everyone and suddenly am overcome – one man Mohammed reaches out and we hug – there was something so symbolic about this – I can’t explain. A linking of north and south and we immediately all felt more at ease – the whole group.
We headed to a child’s safe play area where kids were singing and learning new songs. I couldn’t help myself when they handed me the doundou / drums and we jammed for a while with the kids echoing my words and everyone joining in. It felt good to us all to be able to sing and smile.
We then visited Izata a 32 year old woman who had fled from Gao with her husband in 2012 . He had then returned to Mali and been killed. She is now on her own with just her two children –Aminata and Mohamed struggling to get by and deal with her grief and isolation. She tells us that she had been given everything we saw in her tattered shelter – the bedding, the mats, the pots, pans and even the clothes she was wearing as when they fled they had absolutely nothing on them and they had walked for five days to get to safety. It was so sad to hear her stories and sit in her shelter where she has been for the past two years without any hope, at this point, of returning home because of the ongoing situation in the North of Mali.
We then visited a family where the son was severely disabled – he lay moaning in a fly covered, filthy mattress – his parents slowly flicking away flies that crowded round his dribbling mouth. The father, Oukata from the Bella, ethnic tuareg tribe, told us that it was 6pm in the village and he looked up from his home to see many of the other villagers just running out of their houses. He did not stop to ask questions he just grabbed his son Oukata Isa and ran – later on meeting up with his wife and then travelling together with his son tied to his back for five days to get to safety. Alassane tells us he is grateful to the Burkina Faso government for giving them safety but his wish is to return home and be back in his own lands and his country.
So, at the end of the day – I took time to reflect.
I came to hear and understand the stories of the refugees
I came to ask for peace.
I came to ask governments, aid agencies, individuals not to forget about the Malian refugees, there are still 167,000 of them between Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger
I came to see if I can help to support refugees – this crisis is a forgotten one and the funding is only at 28% of what they really need.
In a world where we spend vast amounts of money on cosmetics, toys, electronics – and people here have nothing I find it hard to believe that if the rest of humanity saw their situation they would allow for this to carry on."