Gueskerou, 20 March 2023 – The highway connecting the Diffa region of Niger to the northeastern part of Nigeria is dotted with makeshift tents on the sides especially from Diffa to Gueskerou. The tents are home to thousands of displaced persons who have had to flee their homes for safety.
The Gueskerou site, located near the highway 35 kilometres from Diffa city, hosts over 15,000 displaced persons and Nigerian refugees. The site is a mere four kilometres from their former villages that were situated on the banks of the Komadougou Yobe, a tributary river of Lake Chad. Since 2015, communities around Gueskerou have been prone to attacks by violent extremist organizations, driving people into displacement sites especially along the highway.
Boulama Loukouye, a chief from one of the villages that sought refuge in this site, recalls the night they left their homes.
"We left on a Friday in 2019, caught in the water, just after prayer," he says.
That night, the Komadougou Yobé river broke its bank, overflowing to the neighbouring villages of Boulama, sweeping away houses and personal belongings. The desperate inhabitants left the villages the same evening to seek refuge on higher ground – the Gueskerou site.
"When we first arrived on the site, there was nothing," explains Boulama. Access to clean water was one of the most urgent needs at the moment – this was, however, not easily available. "The women would go dozens of kilometres to fetch water. Some organizations supported us with water, but it wasn't enough," he adds.
In December 2022, the site inaugurated a borehole and a water system to cover the water needs of the displaced populations. Eight public fountains were installed in the villages, and two new fountains in a nearby school and health centre. Additionally, the site being located on a transhumance corridor, four watering points to cater for the nomadic movement were installed.
"We now have this big borehole, a treasure, which supplies us with enough water," says Boulama.
The new water system provides safe drinking water to the population and contributes to improving hygiene and sanitation and to reducing illnesses such as diarrhea. This further addressed the conflict between local communities and herders for the limited resources.
This support is a great step towards rebuilding the displaced livelihoods on the site. With violent activities still going on in some of the villages, their dreams of returning to their homes are placed on hold. Only a few kilometres away lie their former lives, yet it appears so far away.
"Since we left, we are not thinking of going back because the floods are not likely to stop, and there is insecurity. It's very isolated and dangerous," says Boulama.
"We had many activities. We were fishing, raising livestock, and farming. We had all the necessary infrastructures, a health centre, an elementary school, a kindergarten, our community radio, the town hall, and even a youth training centre. There was also a market. It was a bustling area. Our biggest dream is to have all these infrastructures back," he adds.
For now, the only social amenities available at the site are an overcrowded health centre, and a school. Despite all these, the community remains resilient. They continue to strive for a better life, notwithstanding the various challenges they face.
Education remains uninterrupted for the children in the site, women continue to engage in small-scale trade at the weekly markets, the older men continue to tend to the farms in areas less flooded, while the younger men go fishing – all this while facing the risk of attacks from violent extremist groups.
"Young people go fishing. They return to our villages of origin, to the Komadougou Yobé River; they go there in the morning and return in the evening. They say they must earn a living even if they risk their lives. We are scared too when they go; we are worried they might never return," says Boulama.
Despite the situation, Boulama and the inhabitants of the Gueskerou site have high hopes.
"We have secured land not far from this site to the north, in a safer area. We also hope to have water there so we can irrigate our farmland. We want to resume the life we had before," Boulama concludes.
The water system and borehole were built as part of IOM's Niger Community Cohesion Initiative (NCCI) with funding from the European Union's Service for Foreign Policy Instruments (FPI). The NCCI seeks to increase communities' cohesion and resilience to conflict, insecurity, and threats by violent extremist organizations and strengthen their trust in local government authorities and state structures.
Written by Aïssatou Sy, Public Information Officer at IOM Niger.