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“We left everything behind”: A young girl in Chad recalls the night she fled

Assia, 10, is one of more than 400,000 people who have fled the Central African Republic to escape escalating violence.


By Manuel Moreno González

In Chad, just across the border from the Central African Republic, refugees and returnees remain in desperate need of assistance, and too afraid to go back, for fear of continuing violence.

© UNICEF Central African Republic/2014/Moreno
Assia Issa, 10, fled the Central African Republic with her grandmother after violence erupted a year ago.

GORE, Chad, 19 December 2014 – Ten-year-old Assia Issa has delicate facial features and intelligent, bright eyes, and she speaks with a confident voice that would make anyone pay attention. Her voice is a melody in itself, leaving an indelible impression, along with her words.

“We were scared when the militia came that night,” she says. “All the kids were crying, the grandmothers were praying. The men and older children helped us to get safely out of the town. We didn’t have time to get anything with us. We left everything behind.”

Assia is describing the last night she spent in her home in the town of Carnot, 424 km (263 miles) north-west of Bangui, capital of the Central African Republic. It was almost a year ago, around midnight, when the sound of gunshots woke the whole village, and Assia managed to escape in the company of her grandmother.

“We could hear the gunshots, and we could see the lights of the firearms in the night,” says Anassa Abdoulaye, Assia’s grandmother. “The men of the village brought the cars and we left in a hurry to the border [to Chad]. We spent a month at the border.”

Today Assia is living with her grandmother in Danamadja, in southern Chad, where there is a transit centre for Chadian returnees from the Central African Republic.

Lost ties

Over the past year, escalating violence in the Central African Republic has forced around 150,000 people to take refuge in Chad. The majority of them are Chadian migrants, like Assia’s family. Many had been away so long, they lost all ties with Chad as their country of origin.

Life in Carnot was easy, says Assia. They lived in a big house, which her grandmother had just rebuilt. Assia’s grandmother was a businesswoman, buying clothes from neighbouring countries to sell in Bangui. Assia loved her life back then.

© UNICEF Central African Republic/2014/Moreno
“If the war stops, I would go back to visit, but I would not stay there, because I am afraid," Assia says.

“I was going to school where I had many friends,” she says. “After school, I would come home to help my grandmother with housework and then I would go out with my friends again. I had a lot of friends.”

Assia and her grandmother were one of the first families to settle at the Danamadja site . It hasn’t been easy, but little by little things have improved.

“When we first arrived here, the environment was not good. After two days, we managed to cut down some trees, clean a bit and build the houses. Then we received covering for our houses. It’s much better now,” she says.

Priority needs for families living in the settlement include access to potable water, improved hygiene, access to education, and health and nutritional care for children and women, as well as protection.

Along with family reunification and psychosocial support activities at child friendly spaces, UNICEF has been working with partners in the construction of temporary learning spaces and supplying refugee and returnee sites with clean water and medicines.

In partnership with the Government, UNICEF has installed thousands of water points and latrines in all the sites, conducted more than 10,000 medical consultations, and vaccinated hundreds of thousands of children. The nutritional status of children in the sites has also led UNICEF to conduct screening activities and treatment of malnutrition.

Complex situation

“UNICEF is committed to scaling up its efforts to ensure that all children and their families are protected and have access to essential social basic services,” says Bruno Maes, UNICEF Chad Representative.

© UNICEF Central African Republic/2014/Moreno
Assia attends school in a temporary classroom in the refugee and returnee settlement in Danamadja, Chad.

“UNICEF calls for greater mobilization of the international community,” he adds. “The humanitarian assistance must be strengthened and accelerated to deal with this complex situation affecting children and women in Chad.”

While most families who have been displaced still miss their homes and the relatives who stayed behind, the fear of another violent attack, like the one Assia recalls, is even greater.

“What I miss more is my big sister. She didn’t come here. It has been a long time since I have seen her. I miss her the most,” she says.

“If the war stops, I would go back to visit, but I would not stay there, because I am afraid. I am afraid if I am there, another war will start and I will be stuck there.”



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