Fear, horror plague lives of Boko Haram survivors

2015-09-04 14:14
Refugee living in the Lake Chad region. (Supplied: MSF)

Refugee living in the Lake Chad region. (Supplied: MSF)

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Cape Town – Esther, 24, arrived in Cameroon after walking for two days with her 9-month-old daughter and 14-year-old sister.

However, when she left behind the violent attacks ravaging Nigeria, she also had to leave her mother and another sister. The loss to her family was huge - her father and a third sister had been killed when Boko Haram fighters attacked their village in the middle of the night.

This is just one of the many sad narratives by refugees displaced by Boko Haram insurgencies in West Africa.

For the past two years, people living in the Lake Chad region have been exposed to violent attacks by the Islamist group, resulting in massive displacements and a serious humanitarian crisis.

The region includes western countries like Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger and Chad.

According to the humanitarian organisation Doctors Without Borders (MSF), the attacks have increased in recent weeks and the situation in several refugee camps in the region is "becoming unliveable". This is despite increased military presence.

Statistics reveal that since May, violence insurgencies by Boko Haram have led to widespread displacements.

The United Nations Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) indicates around 1.4 million people have been internally displaced in northeast Nigeria alone, and around 170 000 people have fled to neighbouring Cameroon, 75 000 to Chad and 100 000 to Niger.

See the interactive map below

At least 1 300 people have died so far this year.

Many casualties include children and several cases of abduction and sexual abuse of women and girls have also been reported.

News24 spoke to MSF's head of mission in Nigeria, Ghada Hatim, who said the living conditions of the displaced population in the region remains “critical”.

“Across the region, access for humanitarian agencies to the affected areas is limited due to the ongoing conflict in the region. IDPs [Internally Displaced Persons] residing outside Maiduguri [in Nigeria], for example, Gwoza, can only be accessed with armed escorts. As a result, these IDPs are unable to receive any humanitarian assistance,” Hatim said.

She said due to the high level of violence and trauma, there was need for psychological help.

“One in four people who attend MSF’s mental health clinic in the Dar es Salaam camp in Chad, display depressive symptoms, with others showing signs of sleeping disorders and anxiety. So far, MSF has carried out 424 mental health consultations in the Dar es Salaam camp alone.”  

Lake Chad region
Children living in the Lake Chad region gather to eat at a refugee camp. (Supplied: MSF)

She said people lived in constant fear and struggled to access the humanitarian assistance they needed.

A psychologist working at the Dar es Salaam camp, Forline Madjibeye, recounted one of the sad incidents: "I saw Abeni, a 16-year-old girl who fled from Baga in Nigeria. Both her parents and neighbours were killed. She took her little brother and her nephew, as well as the four children of her neighbours, and eventually made it here. I spoke to her and she told me she still didn’t have a refugee card and therefore, could not receive food."

Madjibeye said the responsibility of taking care of six children in a refugee camp, combined with her bad experience in Nigeria, took an "enormous" toll on Abeni.

“She cannot sleep, she is extremely stressed and suffers from depression, because her future is completely uncertain.”

Lake Chad refugee
(Supplied: MSF)

"We want to be able to give back some sense of control to [Abeni] so she can better handle the fear and sadness she is experiencing, and take care of the children and herself. This is not an easy situation. Others have sadly been through it too."

Another psychologist, Aurelia Morabito, said the process of recovery was long.

"People have witnessed horrible things. They are displaced and become refugees. Then they arrive at a camp where life is grim and tough. Initially, they have post-traumatic stress, they cannot sleep. There is no option, but to stay. They are not only a victim of Boko Haram; they now have to go through the process of accepting life as refugees; of having to live in a different place and of having to live with the reality they have no idea what tomorrow holds," Morabito said.

The MSF mental health team aimed to provide support to the refugees such as Esther and Abeni to lessen the burden of the trauma and ensure they had a professional to whom to talk.

Since March, MSF psychologists have provided individual, family and couple consultations to at least 524 patients.

Read more on:    boko haram  |  chad  |  cameroon  |  niger  |  nigeria  |  refugees  |  west africa

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