We had no choice. Either we flee or we die

Fatimata, 35, is among the 10,000+ people who fled their homes in western Niger following a threat of attacks by unidentified groups

Lalaina Fatratra Andriamasinoro
UNICEF Niger/2021/Andriamasinoro
21 May 2021

TILLABERY (Niger), 21 May 2021 - “Armed group came to our village. After taking all our belongings and livestock, they gave us an ultimatum of three days to get out of the village” says Fatimata, a 35-year-old mother of five.

“With the recent attacks in the region, which resulted in hundreds of innocent victims, we decided to flee our village (Zibane Koira-Zeno), as I can’t stand the idea of my whole family dying here. We’re taking this threat seriously” she says with concern.

UNICEF Niger/2021/Andriamasinoro
Fatimata, 35, holding her little boy Sani, 2 months-old, in the arena which serves as a temporary settlement of the displaced people in the city of Tillabery

She brought her five children and joined thousand others in the city of Tillabery to take refuge in an arena that normally hosts traditional wrestling matches.

“My little baby Sani is only 2-months old. It was challenging to quit the village, leaving all our belongings behind. But we had no choice. Either we flee or we die.”

More than 10,000 people have fled their homes in the west of Niger over the past days. They come from four of the 24 villages in the Anzourou commune, in the region of Tillabery.

“I really don’t know how to deal with this situation. Authorities encouraged us to return home and reassured they will do their utmost to secure our village. But I am really afraid to go  back there.”

“I do not know how long we can stay here in this arena. I do not have enough savings to survive. We will see how the situation will evolve before deciding” Fatimata tells with tears.

UNICEF Niger/2021/Andriamasinoro
Handwashing device set up by UNICEF and its partner COOPI in the arena of traditional wrestling matches where thousands of displaced people are currently settled in the city of Tillabery

Those who do not have the means to travel to the city of Tillabery have set up camp in deserted areas along the National Route 1, like the one in the village of Sarkoira, where 235 households are settled. Most of them came from the village where Fatimata and her family normally live.

“We are traumatized. Some of our children are sick. We do not know where to go, we have nothing, that is why we decided to stay in this village” says Roukayatou, a 33-year-old mother of five, while she brought her two children to the emergency health center set up by UNICEF, through its partner COOPI.

“They told me my 4-year-old daughter Farida has malaria. He gave us some medicines and we have to come back here after three days.”

UNICEF Niger/2021/Andriamasinoro
Roukayatou and her two children at the emergency health center set up by UNICEF and its partner Coopi in the village of Sarkoira

"Over the past days, we have had more than 200 consultations," explains Issa Boubakar, health worker at the emergency health center. "Most of the children we consulted have respiratory infections or malaria. Some are traumatized by the sudden displacement"

“Thanks to the Rapid Response Mechanism (RRM), we have managed to set up this center and other services to respond to the immediate needs of the affected people” explains Diallo Souleymane, Coordinator of the NGO COOPI in the region. “In addition to this health center, we are providing other services such as psychosocial support, treatment of malnutrition and reproductive health.”

UNICEF Niger/2021/Andriamasinoro
Dozens of patients lining up for consultations at the emergency health center of Sarkoira

The Rapid Response Mechanism, support by EU Civil Protection Mechanism, Italian Agency for Development Cooperation and German Federal  Foreign Office – GFFO, is a unique partnership and emergency response capacity arrangement, designed to provide critical multi-sectoral assistance to people affected by shocks.

Niger border areas are affected by the rise of new population movements and the persistence of uncovered needs, resulting in an increasing vulnerability of people in need of assistance in the country.

This situation mainly affects the regions of Tillabéry, Tahoua, Diffa and Maradi, where non-state armed groups have intensified their activities over the past few months.

UNICEF Niger/2021/Andriamasinoro
Displaced families in the village of Sarkoira. A total of 235 displaced households are currently settled there.

Insecurity along the borders with Burkina Faso and Mali have exacerbated needs in Tillabéry and Tahoua, where over 195,000 people are displaced. As of mid of May 2021, Tillabery region alone hosts more than 14,000 displaced households, representing more than 102,000 people. Attacks on civilians in the Lake Chad region have prevented nearly 269,000 people in Diffa from returning home.