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"This couldn’t have come at a worse time – not that there is ever a good time for brutal fighting that burns people’s homes to the ground and sends them running in fear to another country. More than 130,000 people have been displaced by the fighting in Mali, and many of them have arrived here in Niger, a country that is already in the grips of a worsening food crisis.
Most families in Niger, especially in the areas along the border with Mali, are running out of food. Families have reduced the numbers of meals in a day. Children are going hungry. The refugees are adding to the strain already being suffered here. But the people of Niger are amazing – they have almost nothing, but they are helping the refugees. They are sharing what little food they have. This is the culture in Niger. They help out how they can: a Nigerien will share a cooking pot with a refugee family, and the refugee family will use it, and then pass it on to another family.
Tens of thousands of Malian refugees have fled into Niger. There was heavy fighting last night, so more refugees are crossing the border. This will get worse. And as always, the ones caught in the middle are the civilians.
Their villages were burned to the ground. They have nothing to go back to except sad memories. Already the numbers are growing. CARE plans to help the people who fled to Banibangou, and we were initially told there were 600 families – there were in fact 1,260 families (9,000 people), and more people are crossing the border as the fighting continues.
The refugees are in a bad state. Many of them are sleeping in the open. I saw a photo of a pot with brown sauce in it, and I said to my staff, ‘oh, so they are eating millet?’ But my staff said no – that’s muddy water. The refugees are drinking muddy water, because they have no access to clean water. We need to help them filter the water, or the refugees will start to get sick. Water is a real problem.
CARE is gearing up to provide clean water, food and emergency items to the refugees. But we need to help the Nigeriens in this community, too, because they are sharing what they have with the refugees. By helping the refugees, they’re running out of food more quickly.
This situation is going to get a lot worse before it gets better."
Johannes Schoors is CARE Niger's Country Director