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In Cameroon, far from home, but nurtured by a family

By Abdul Aziz Froutan

A Nigerian girl separated from her family when she fled an attack on her village finds safety and support in a refugee camp in Cameroon, and holds on to the hope of finding her brothers and sisters.

Tina was separated from her family when she fled her village in northern Nigeria, eventually arriving at the Minawao refugee camp, in the Far North region of Cameroon.

MINAWAO, Cameroon, 28 September 2015 – Tina*, 11, is playing with another girl, here in the Minawao refugee camp, in the Far North region of Cameroon. She treats the girl like a sister. For a few minutes at a time, Tina can forget the path she has taken here, fleeing the violence in Nigeria without her own siblings.

Tina’s ‘sister’ is the youngest child of a Nigerian foster family living in the camp who have taken her into their care. It is through supportive programmes like this one that Nigerian children find some solace after their harrowing journeys.

“I just ran away”

It’s been nine months since Tina crossed the border into northern Cameroon without her family. “Armed men attacked our village, and they burned down our houses,” she recalls. “I just ran away and followed other people.”

After several days, she reached the Minawao camp. “We made a long and difficult journey,” she says. “I was with men, women and children fleeing the war. I had to follow them, and I was really scared of what happened to our village.”

Locating and protecting children

Cameroon hosts around 46,000 Nigerian refugees, including almost 30,000 children in Minawao camp. In partnership with local NGO ALDEPA (Action Locale pour une Développement participatif et Autogéré), UNICEF supports refugee children by providing psychosocial support, recreational activities, clothes and referrals to family reunification services and health and hygiene facilities.

More than 140 unaccompanied children have been registered in the camp, to date. Along with other United Nations agencies and the Government of Cameroon, UNICEF helps these children with psychosocial support and temporary placement in foster families, like Tina’s. The partners follow up on the progress of the children’s integration into the family and the environment.

Nigerian refugee children at a child-friendly space in the Minawao refugee camp, in the Far North region of Cameroon.

“Children like Tina ran away for their lives,” says Félicité Tchibindat, UNICEF Representative in Cameroon. “Often, in the panic, they were separated and find themselves alone in the camp. They witnessed horrible scenes.

“In the absence of their own relatives, they don’t know who to turn and talk to,” she continues. “They cannot go home, but we can bring them closer to family and protection.”

“I am protected by another family”

When Tina was identified as being unaccompanied, she received clothing, psychosocial support and essential personal hygiene products and was taken into her foster family, while efforts were made to find her own family. Today, Tina attends child-friendly spaces supported by UNICEF. She also participates in such vocational activities as sewing, gardening and cooking. She is excited to learn to sew and to cook, and she looks forward to demonstrating these skills to her parents, one day.

“I am happy that, in the absence of my own family, I am protected by another family,” she says.

Social workers who are taking care of unaccompanied refugee children share necessary information about children like Tina with The International Committee of the Red Cross to trace their families.

“I have three brothers and two sisters – and I hope to find them soon,” Tina says.

*Name has been changed.



UNICEF Photography: Refugees and displaced

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