Niger: Refugees struggle to access food-aid without identity documents; humanitarian funding running low 

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In November 2014, Fanna Liman Mustafa’s house burned to the ground when Boko Haram raided Baga, in north-eastern Nigeria. The 25-year-old fled to Niger with her four children. She says: “We lost everything in the fire.”

Since 2013, thousands of Nigerians like Mrs. Mustafa have fled the violence in the country. They left everything behind in order to find refuge across the border in Diffa, Niger. The ongoing violence has led to an explosion in the number of refugees and a worsening humanitarian crisis. The UN estimates there are 150,000 refugees in the Diffa Region.

Akébou Sawadogo is the Director of the humanitarian organization Save the Children in Niger. He says, “[Refugees] continue to arrive in Diffa. Arrivals are significantly increasing the burden on host communities that were already vulnerable.” Mr. Sawadogo adds that the host communities are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, including food.

People must show their identity documents to gain access to the refugee camps and food aid. Unfortunately, many have no such documents.

Binta Ali has no means of proving her identity. Her family’s birth certificates and other documents were destroyed in their village during Boko Haram attacks. She says, “Today I have problems accessing basic services.”

Mrs. Ali is not alone. Nigerian Abdul Kadar Gonimi was living in Nigeria but was forced to return to Niger. He says, “Every time I want to access refugee services, I have to explain myself several times before I receive help.”

Alassane Seyboune is the Secretary-general of Niger’s Interior Ministry. He explains: “Without a birth certificate or an identity document, [these people] cannot access their basic rights [as refugees] and they risk becoming stateless.”

The people of Diffa were already struggling to survive before refugees arrived in their area. Mr. Sawadogo says: “If you go into Diffa today, the communities’ main needs—in their view—are food and water. Therefore, food security remains our primary concern … because more households in vulnerable states mean more food aid needs to be distributed to the displaced.”

Half of the population in Diffa live on less than US$1.25 per day and malnutrition rates here are among the highest in Africa. Even so, local households share the little food they have with the refugees. Each household hosts an average of 17 people, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, or OCHA.

Many families could not grow crops last year. OCHA estimates there is a deficit of over 80,000 tonnes of cereals. Benoit Thiry is country director of the World Food Programme in Niger. He says, “Harvests were not very good in Diffa and, in combination with the insecurity, this explains why it is difficult to feed the families.”

Children suffer the most in this situation. Between January 1 and April 26, more than 8,400 cases of severe acute malnutrition were recorded in children under five in the region. In 2014, fewer than 3,200 cases were recorded during the same period.

Mr. Sawadogo says people don’t have enough money to buy the food required to feed their entire household. He adds that Save the Children needs to raise about US$14 million to simply continue operating in the region until the end of the year.

To read the article on which this story was based, La crise humanitaire négligée au Niger, go to:

Photo: Displaced population at a refuge site in Niger’s Diffa region. Boko Haram’s worsening violence has forced tens of thousands to flee northeastern Nigeria to neighbouring countries. Credit: Katy Thiam/OCHA Niger