UN refugee chief praises Niger's help for refugees
DIFFA, Niger – Despite facing high levels of poverty and other development challenges of its own, Niger is playing a key role in sheltering refugees fleeing conflicts in the region, the UN refugee chief said during a visit this week.
The West African country provides asylum and refuge to over 165,000 refugees fleeing conflict and persecution in neighbouring Mali and Nigeria.
“It’s very rare to find a country and a people facing so many challenges – security, economic, climatic - surrounded by unstable neighbours, yet providing refuge and maintaining humanitarian values, despite it all,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said during his first visit.
“I had no hope when I fled Nigeria, but now I feel at home."
The region of Diffa, in the south-east of Niger, is a perfect example of this solidarity, as expressed by Grandi on a visit to the region to highlight the Nigerian displacement crisis. Since February 2015, Diffa has been under constant threat from Boko Haram.
The numbers of displaced people in the region has skyrocketed in the past year, reaching over 250,000 by last month. This total includes refugees, returning Niger citizens and people forcibly displaced within the country’s borders. What is exceptional about Diffa is the fact that amongst the displaced, just 7,500 are living in a refugee camp. The majority live side by side with the local population, who also face major challenges
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, provides assistance and protection to people in need, based on their vulnerability, and not just on their status as refugees. In such a dynamic and volatile context, UNHCR has been forced to rethink the way it operates, and to come up with innovative solutions for all.
In its Urbanization Project, UNHCR works hand-in-hand with the local and community authorities, to provide legal access to land for displaced families, while contributing to improving the local economy.
During a visit to the town of Maine Soroa, in the Diffa region, Grandi met with Amina, a 28-year-old Nigerian refugee who had received a parcel of land and a house under the project. “I had no hope when I fled Nigeria, but now I feel at home. I’ve put my daughter in school and I want my family to make our life here.”
To date, over 2,000 families have benefitted from land parcels, whilst the construction of social and sustainable long-term housing began in 2016.
Another such project, which helps not only refugees, but also the local population, is the Gas as Domestic Energy programme. Throughout 2016, over 200,000 of the most vulnerable people across the region of Diffa received gas bottles to use for domestic purposes. UNHCR struck a partnership with a private gas company in Niger to ensure the sustainability of the project.
“If we don’t invest in the future of the children, of the young people, then the risk is that we slide back into insecurity. "
Not only does the use of gas protect the environment, which is essential in the Lake Chad Basin, but it provides multiple other benefits. “The gas has changed a lot of things in our life,” Bintu, a local woman hosting refugees in her home, told Grandi.
The cost of gas refills is far lower than the price of wood, which means people have more money to invest in other areas. Women and girls are also spared having to gather firewood far from home, where they are vulnerable to assault. It also enables girls to spend more time in school rather than on domestic chores.
The High Commissioner, noting that Diffa had been one of the most prosperous regions in Niger, stressed that: “If we don’t invest in the future of the children, of the young people, then the risk is that we slide back into insecurity. We cannot afford that. The people cannot afford that. The authorities cannot afford that."
During a meeting on Sunday with Niger Prime Minister Brigi Rafini in Niamey, Grandi reiterated, that, “Niger is an example that I assure you I will use around the world.”