Salifou recalls the day he lost his family. “My parents were farmers,” he says. “Our father sent us to get fodder for our livestock. On our way, we heard screams coming from the neighbourhood. We immediately ran home.”
Salifou found his parents lying in a pool of blood, murdered by the militants. He was just in time to see his brothers meet the same fate. “As we arrived, we saw two armed men shooting at two of my brothers, killing them as well.”
Alone in an unfamiliar world
Today, Salifou lives in a refugee camp in Maine-Soroa, a small town in Diffa. Nearly 100,000 Nigerians have fled their home country to seek shelter from Boko Haram in Niger. Over 46,000 are children, and, like Salifou, many are all alone with no one to look after them in an alien land.
Niger is already stretched to breaking point, hosting 50,000 Malian refugees who have fled their country due to conflict. On top of this, the Diffa region already faces outbreaks of disease and ongoing food insecurity, with one in 20 children suffering from malnutrition. Attacks by Boko Haram have also spilled across the border.
46,000 children at risk
Children are in desperate meed of help. 9,000 are unaccompanied with no adult care – but each of the 46,000 children forced from home is in danger. Girls are at increased risk of female genital mutilation and sexual exploitation. Many more need basic preventative healthcare and medical treatment, food, shelter, toilets and opportunities for play and making friends.
Ousmane Nayaya, from the SOS team in Niger, says that the most recent violence has escalated the refugee crisis: “The situation has escalated with the attacks in Gaidam, Damassak, Baga and Malan Fotori... Hundreds were traumatised and women subjected to sexual abuse.” With food scarce and resources stretched thin in Diffa, Ousmane says that 24% of children living in the region are now suffering from malnutrition.
What are we doing to help?
With the humanitarian crisis escalating quickly, we are working to provide protection, education, healthcare, food and nutritional support to nearly 9,000 children:
- Protection: We will set up four “child-friendly spaces” in Diffa. Two of them will be mobile, travelling round the region to reach those most in need. These spaces will provide counselling and education for child refugees, and help unaccompanied children find their families.
- Children's rights: We will also work with local communities so they can protect children from dangers such as sexual exploitation and female genital mutilation. We will provide these groups with better awareness of children's rights and how to enforce them.
- Education: We will open a temporary learning centre to ensure that children are able to progress in their education despite the crisis. We will also use this as a platform for providing provide food, healthcare, clothes, shoes and blankets, as well as hygiene kits for girls.
- Healthcare: We will provide preventative healthcare and medical treatment. This way, we will reduce the risk from seasonal diseases such as malaria by providing treated mosquito nets. We will protect children, mothers and pregnant women from other health risks.
- Food and nutrition: We will provide high-nutrition food for children, mothers and pregnant women. Working working with Médecins sans Frontieres and other charities, we will screen children for malnutrition, ensure they achieve a healthy weight and body mass, and follow up to make sure they stay healthy. We will refer severely malnourished children for intensive treatment.
How can I help?
You can help us care for vulnerable children in Niger by donating to our work. Your money will be spent where the need is greatest, whether that be on our emergency response, or on our ongoing work providing a loving home for children who cannot grow up with their parents.
If you want to go a step further, you can make a lasting difference to the life of a child in Niger by sponsoring today. Find out more about what you can achieve through child sponsorship...