Arriving at the camp of Sayam Forage, home to about 1,000 Nigerian refugees, we find Fatma sitting on a bag of rice, under an open tent with fluttering plastic sheets. Despite the wind, the air is hot. It is dusty. It envelops you instantly; you feel your arms heavy, your eyes struggle against the blazing sun.
Fleeing In The Night To Escape The Militia
Next to Fatma, there are other women with children, and some elderly men. They are all waiting patiently for their turn to approach WFP’s food distribution point.
Fatma has already received her monthly food ration. She is just waiting for help to carry it back home. Home is a tent - one of about 1,000 dotting the arid, desert land - where she has been living for 40 days.
What made her come here?
[story|645167|645063|645226]“Fighting,” she says. “My husband myself and all our children were rounded up on a Monday morning and kept captive for three nights. We knew we had to leave. It wasn’t safe. We left in the middle of the night. One of the children was ill, but we had to leave even him in that state. He’s a child we’ve been looking after but he has family in Niger, and once we arrived, we were forced to leave him with his relatives. Here, we are safe at least. We’ve been getting food, and we are being looked after.”
Under her orange headscarf, Fatma’s big, brown, moist eyes are in constant motion, running this way and that, as if searching for a way out or a solution. She speaks quickly as if she's been waiting all along for you to come and hear her out, and forces herself to smile from time to time.
Her youngest, a two month old, is sitting on her lap – visibly tired and distressed. Sweat is pouring down her head and face and her eyes are teary.
Sweat is also pouring down the faces of the staff – of WFP and its partners, ACTED and APBE (a local NGO). The distribution area is teeming with staff and refugees; women, men and teenage boys. Oil is being poured into canisters, while millet, spread out on the floor, is being scooped up in bags.
At the entrance, a boy lifts a bag of rice onto his narrow shoulders and passes smiling shyly, heading to his family’s tent.
Receiving WFP Food For The First Time
[quote|"There is nothing to go back to...I'm glad we received the rations today"]Fatouma – a widow with four children - has just received her ration. Her two teenage boys help carry the load home, their faces and dark T-shirts covered in dust.
They are newcomers, having arrived just last week, and this is the first time they have received a full ration. Fatouma says that she’s been trying to escape for months. A few weeks ago, she crossed the border by herself, leaving her children on the other side. She wanted to find a safe place first, a home where she could bring the children to. As fighting escalated along the border, fearing for her children’s safety, she went back. They were already on the move, and she met them on the road.
“So far, we feel safe here. We will stay. There is nothing to go back to…Food has been lacking since we’ve been here. I’m glad we received the rations today. I’ll go back and start preparing a meal.”
Asked if she likes cooking, she says ‘yes’. While both women were clearly grateful for the food rations they’ve just received, they spoke dearly of the things they miss from home – their spices, their pots and pans. They were forced to flee with only their clothes on their back. They need clothes and shoes.
Their basic needs are met – there is food, water, medical assistance yet their lives are hard. You wonder what it would be like as the weather gets harsher, the temperature higher.
Leaving the camp, we come across three UNHCR trucks. They are bringing more refugees to the camp – up to 100. There are up to 100 new refugees arriving every second day.
Help From Donors Is Crucial
Along the areas of Niger, Cameroon, Chad that border Nigeria, stories like those of Fatma and Fatouma are sadly too common -- of families torn apart, seeking protection and shelter in camps and with host communities, predicting a future just as uncertain and disrupted as their recent past.
On 11 March, WFP provided vital food assistance to about 1,000 refugees – enough food to cover their needs for one month. The rations comprised millet, oil, pulses, salt, cereal and super cereal for the prevention of malnutrition for children under five years old.
Mothers are taught how to use the super cereal properly in cooking lessons .The nutritional state of the newly arrived children is poor and without help, it can only worsen.
WFP’s Regional Director for West Africa, Denise Brown, says donors’ contribution is critical to meet the urgent and growing needs.
[donation-form]Last month, WFP provided essential food assistance to nearly 40,000 refugees, returnees, internally displaced and people from the host communities in the Diffa region.
For more info visit our Nigeria crisis page