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Published On: Fri, Jun 20th, 2014

Examining plight of refugees within and outside Nigeria

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Nigerian refugees at a campBy Evelyn Okakwu

The 20th of June is regarded as the World Refugee Day all over the world to commemorate the courage of all those who have been forced to flee their home lands or their homes due to various sad events.

Before the year 2000, many countries across the world marked the day in different ways and at different times, except in Africa where it was tagged the African Refugee Day and celebrated on the 20th of June.

The United Nations in 2000 therefore decided to set aside the same date with Africa as the international day for the event, as a form of solidarity with Africa.

This year’s International Refugee Day is titled: “One Family torn apart is too much.” The Nigerian National Commission for Refugees through its Deputy Director; Refugee and Migrant Affairs (R&MA) Mrs.

Omotade Olusola says the event has begun since Wednesday with a symposium organised by the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Lagos where they tried to put smiles on the faces of refugees in Ijebu-Ode. She said the event will continue with a funfair on Friday the 20th of June in Lagos while a novelty match between host communities and refugees in Lagos will take place on Saturday the 21st of June.

She added that the event will continue on Monday the 23rd of June in Abuja at the Nicon Luxury Hotel.

Although the Head of Press and Public Relations at the office was not around as at the time of filling this report, it was not clear whether or not the events will have a direct effect on the refugees, outside the shores of this country.

Mrs Olusola noted, though, that the novelty match as well as the funfair are all meant to ensure a sense of belonging for the people living in Ijebu-Ode as refugees. But what happens to those in places like Maiduguri, living far away from the villages in jungles for fear of the terrorists, who have caused many of them to flee their homes?

In March this year the UNHCR Mr Adrian Edwards said Nigeria had a whooping amount of 57000 refugees outside the shores of this country, while about half a million Nigerians are internally displaced.; a situation which he described as alarming.

Previous report by Peoples Daily revealed the experience of some internally displaced persons, thus: Yamari Babyi told Peoples Daily that she could not locate her husband and her eldest child as a result of the terrorists attack. She added that her predicament was compounded by the fact that their dead bodies could also not be traced. “I am not bothered by what happens to me because to me life is meaningless, considering the fact that I lost virtually everything to the attack, but my concern is mostly about these children whose future may be truncated if an attack is lunched here”, she said, sadly.

The story is the same for refugees like Aliyu Usman and Joseph Markus who all had to relocate to the jungle for fear of the Boko Haram terrorists.

In other countries, refugees shared their experience with the UN: Excerpts; unlike most of the children who are embraced by the love and warmth of their parents, Hussein Mohamed, an 8 year old Somali child, has never seen or known his own father and mother. Hussein’s parents were killed in Mogadishu by a bomb explosion. Most of this story comes from Hussein’s sister, Seido, a 31-year-old mother of five, and her 34-year-old husband, Hassan.

“It was a miracle that Hussein survived the explosion. My mother and my father were in the house when suddenly the fighting between the government and military groups started. Hussein was 10 months old. He was sleeping in a separate room. No one could believe he was still alive. I rushed to the house and saw my parents were dead and I heard Hussein crying inside. I took him in my arms and ran away. I was horrified,” said Seido.

In July 2009, the family decided to flee the ongoing war in Somalia and found a safe haven in Ethiopia.

“We are a family of nine. My eldest son Mohamed is 10 years old, Aden is 9, Ibrahim is 5, Khadija is 3, and Hawa is 6 months old. My brother Ahmed is now 13. I took care of him at the age of 3, after our mother was killed in another fight in Mogadishu. I couldn’t abandon Hussein, being a helpless baby. So my wife and I share the responsibility to bring up this family,” said Hassan while looking at Seido wearing a genuine smile of appreciation and content. “We love Hussein and Ahmed equally as we love our children. I make sure they go to school.

Hussein is in grade 2, while Ahmed is in grade 4 and Aden is in grade 3. Mohamed had two operations on his back last year and he can’t sit for a long time. I want to give them proper education and a better life. I will continue to take care of them till I die.”

In his shy voice Hussein said “Seido is ‘Hoyo’ and Hassan is ‘Abo’,” which means ‘mum’ and ‘dad’ in Somali language.

When asking the children what they wanted to be in the future, Hussein said that he wanted to be a doctor, while Ahmed and Aden said they wanted to be teachers. Seido added, “I want them to have proper

education because we didn’t have that. I want them to have a proper life because we didn’t have that. I want them to be useful people in society because this is the legacy we leave behind”.

Patrick’s Story: “I was not afraid to die, everyone dies. But at that time, I felt like I was not ready to die.

“I am from Kachin State, Myanmar, and I’ve been in Malaysia for more than 3 years, close to 4 years.

I left Myanmar in July 2010, together with my wife. My parents are still in Myanmar.

I was forced into labour and mistreated by the Burmese soldiers but I thought of a solution: I might die here if they continue treating me like this so I should run away. I was not afraid to die, everyone dies. But at that time, I felt like I was not ready to die. I need to take care after my parents and wife.

I fled away from that area to the capital, Myitkyina. While escaping, I felt free. I was very happy.

But when I arrived at my uncle’s house, hiding there, I felt insecure because I realized that I have no safety. I cannot go back to my house. I was not worried about myself. I was worried about my parents and they are already very old and they are dependent on me and my wife, she was pregnant at that time. I cannot even express my feelings because I felt anger. But anger is just a small matter. I felt so insecure. When I left, I was not just thinking about my wife only but also my parents. But I could not afford to bring them with me.

I moved to Malaysia and I met a lot of people who I knew in the past. So many people! I didn’t know there were so many refugees here! I have no hopes for myself but it would be great if Malaysia could sign the Geneva Conventions. I only hope for my next generation.”

Nigeria has been reported to have over 57000 people in similar situation outside this country. While we celebrate with those displaced within Nigeria, this is a call to the government, and indeed all stake holders to stop and think about the plight of all those Nigerian refugees both within, and certainly outside Nigeria.

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