Hadjara’s story: The love for children beyond the borders
As a result of the Boko Haram conflict, children have been subjected to violence and abuse, and lost their families, their homes and missed out on years of education.
There is small lizard running inside Hadjara’s hut. Two mosquito nets are holding from the roof made of thatch. The heat hits strong and flies fly all around the room. Someone is cooking outside and the smell of food sneaks into the holes of the hut when Hadjara arrives home.
Hadjara, 45, now lives in the city of Diffa, in the easternmost corner of Niger, bordering Nigeria and Chad. While being asked for her story, she reflects letting the silence speaks first.
‘’It was in 2014. We used to live in a small village in Nigeria. My four children, my husband, and me. We had a normal life, my husband was a farmer and fisherman in the Lake Chad basin. I used to sell cooking oil for the people in the neighborhood and we managed to take care of our children. Our land in Nigeria was peaceful’’.
‘’One night, we heard that Boko Haram attacked the village just a few kilometres from ours. They were killing people, looting and burning everything in their path. That day, with no time to take any belongings apart from one dress, we had to flee to the bush’’.
‘‘My husband stayed in Nigeria, but I decided to run with my children to the next village’. Soon after that, Hadjara and her four children had to flee once more when Boko Haram attacked and burned down the near villages carrying out ambushes. ‘’We heard gunfire again and had to move from one village to another. Two days walk, two days rest. That’s how it was. The children cried. I was alone with them. They were exhausted and starving after several days walking but I had nothing to feed them. It was hell’’ remembers Hadjara.
UNICEF urges solutions to help children without families
In the Diffa region alone, there are over 250,000 displaced persons - 82,037 are Nigerian refugee children and 85,847 are internally displaced children.
To date, 401 unnacompanied children have been identified in Diffa region and 88 have been reunited with their families thanks to the support of UNICEF and child protection actors.
‘’Our priority is to protect displaced and vulnerable children, particularly unaccompanied children, from exploitation and violence’’ says Ildephonse Birhaheka, Child Protection Specialist in the Diffa region.
‘‘Reunification is the best option but the current conflict makes it very difficult to find the biological families so we identify host families to ensure their wellbeing. In Diffa region, the percentage of children reunified with their families is low (22%) and the conditions for their reunification are challenging due to security issues and the complexity to identify the families in a context of continuous population movement’’ affirms Ildephonse.
UNICEF is supporting the local authorities by financing and providing training to the Regional Directorate for Child Protection(RDCP) social workers and host families like Hadjara on caring for unaccompanied and separated children. Psychosocial support is also provided, as well as assistance to ensure the follow-up of cases, and support for children placed in host families through hygiene kits, clothing, and access to recreational and creative activities in child friendly spaces.
, ‘‘Due to the current context, children can spend several months in foster care. This is why the work of social workers is essential to reduce the risks such as early marriages and other forms of abuse and exploitation while in transit care’’ says Issoua (left), Regional Directorate for Child Protection (RDCP) focal point.
In Diffa, host families shows gesture of compassion, love and responsibility welcoming unaccompanied children, boys and girls from any age, and caring for them despite the harsh living conditions following attacks by Boko Haram and displacement.
The neighbor who became a mother
‘’In a normal day we wake up early to pray, we help mum at home and then we come to the centre to play with other children and learn something new. For the moment, I really want to improve my French language to one day, be a nurse’’ says Aisha.
‘‘I treat them the same as my biological children. We have developed a true relation mother and children, they are part of the family now. They even call me mum’’ says Hadjara.
‘‘I believe, for the best of their lives, is to stay here. They go to school, they enjoy activities outside from home, they have friends, and they have me. We are a family now. I just want to see them growing in peace. That’s all.’’
With the support of ECHO, U.S. Department of State: Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, Refugees and Migration, the Governments of Japan, Sweden and Italy, UNICEF has been able to support unaccompanied and separated children through cases management, to provide psychological support, and to grant continued access to formal and non-formal education.