I felt like the sky had fallen on our heads

Aicha* is one of the people who have had to move continuously in the hope of finding a place of refuge where she and her family will be safe and able to live in peace.

By Lalaina Fatratra Andriamasinoro
I felt like the sky had fallen on our heads
25 February 2021

"I lost my husband nearly nine months ago, after an attack on our village in Felo, in the Gubio District of Borno State, located in the north-east of Nigeria. This attack claimed several victims," recalls Aicha*, a 38-year-old mother of three.

"Bodies littered the ground; the assailants chased all the inhabitants away from the village, shooting at us and crushing us with their vehicles. My children and I managed to hide, but my husband was not so lucky. This was in June 2020.”

“We decided to flee and travelled for miles to try to find refuge in places that were much safer. With my three children, I travelled from village to village until we arrived here in Niger, with the help of people we knew who had also fled the attacks in Borno.”

“We settled in Toumour, where the inhabitants welcomed us and shared with us what little they had. We were even provided with a hangar. Despite the difficult living conditions, I told myself that we would gradually regain control over our lives. We had forged friendships with the host communities.  But unfortunately, it was short-lived.”

“Sometime later, we had to move again because of the flooding that occurred in the region in October. I felt desperate once again. I felt like the sky had fallen on our heads. But we were finally able to manage the situation, as the flooding quickly receded.”

“From time to time, we had received help from the authorities, which enabled us to survive, especially my children. But fate had other things in store for us.”

“In December, for the second time, we were victims of an attack. The assailants burst in on us in large numbers at around 7 p.m., firing shots and setting fire to homes.  They burned everything down. Some victims were killed or wounded by bullets, others were burned inside huts which were totally consumed by the flames.”

“It was horrible. For the second time, I had to live through the same nightmare. Fortunately, by the grace of God, we were able to flee that night and we hid in the bushes until the shooting stopped. And at that point, I wondered if someone had perhaps placed us under a curse.”

“We returned to the village following an appeal by the authorities - who reassured us that they would do their utmost to make the area safe.  Nearly a thousand houses had been burned down, as well as the city's central market.” 

Shelter and NFIs
Shelter and NFIs

Today, Aicha* and her children are once again trying to rebuild their lives. She and her fellow travellers are setting up a shelter where they can settle down once more. She has received a series of kits to give her the minimum she needs to start this recovery process.

“This week we received cotton and plastic tarpaulins, mats, blankets, fabrics, lamps, clothes, pots, cups, buckets, tins, soap boxes, brooms, bags, menstrual hygiene kits and many other things. All these materials give us hope that we can move forward.”

Thousands of other families in the region have received the same kits thanks to the rapid response mechanism led by UNICEF, with the help of its partners, including the NGO Acted, and with financial support provided by the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation (AICS).  More than 780 shelters have also been set up with the support of the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) and the European Commission's Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO).

The Rapid Response Mechanism teams have been mobilised to assist the displaced communities by carrying out an assessment of their vulnerability and providing an immediate emergency response in terms of shelter and non-food items, based on the needs identified.

“My dream is just to live in peace with my children. To be able to feed them, send them to school, look after them when they are sick and have a hut to shelter in” says Aisha*.

Funded by the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation (AICS), the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), the European Commission's Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO) and the United Kingdom's Department for International Development (UKaid), the Rapid Response Mechanism consists of a network of actors able to respond rapidly to humanitarian emergencies.

The Diffa region, in south-eastern Niger, has been hard hit by rising extremist violence in the Lake Chad basin, which has forced hundreds of thousands of people to settle in the area. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the situation, making the humanitarian response increasingly difficult.

*The name has been changed to preserve the anonymity of the witness account.