Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Nigerian communities open their homes and hearts to refugees – photo essay


Waves of conflict between Boko Haram and the army have forced 2.1 million people in north-east Nigeria to flee their homes. Many have found shelter elsewhere in the country, with people sharing their homes, land and compassion
Photographer Chris de Bode travelled to meet hosts and their guests in Yola, for the Dutch Relief Alliance
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Hospitality amid conflict

Karimutu and Umaru fled from Gwoza with their five children. One night, the family climbed out of the window and never looked back. They arrived in Yola exhausted, but there they found shelter with Jona and his family, in a small house Jona had just finished building next to his own. Jona had been intending to let the house as his family was struggling to survive on the harvest from the fields. Instead, he rented it to Umara for a fraction of the usual rate. He is hardly covering his costs, but wants to support a family in need. The two families eat together, and the adults spend time with each other in the courtyard after they have put the children to bed.
Umaru told Jona about the posters he used to have on the wall at home. A day later, Jona found some posters and put them on Umaru's empty walls.
'The hospitality I've seen in Yola should be an example worldwide. It shows that people in any society are capable of supporting each other without limitations or conditions, just the driving force of being human'
Chris de Bode, photographer
The family lacked the most basic equipment when they arrived. Umaru was very happy to be given this flat iron.
Jona and other people in the village have supplied them with everything they need, including food, a water container, clothes, matresses and pots.

'Mothers help each other'

When insurgents attacked her village a year and a half ago, Hannatu (pictured right), 41, fled Borno with her daughters – Naomi, 20, Sunday, 16, Maria, 12, Marjamu, nine – and her sons, Zuker, 18, and Emanuel, six. The rebel groups went from door to door, kidnapping young boys and girls. Many others were killed. Hannatu had been a widow since 2009, and owned a small restaurant in Maiduguri to provide for her family. She arrived in Yola with nothing, but was given a portion of land and the means to start a shop by a one of the local community, Miriam (pictured left).
'Hannatu is a fighter. She wanted to take care of her family on her own. I only helped her to open this shop. Mothers help each other. I go to her shop as often as I can and I encourage other people in the community to do the same. I also provided land for the borehole. I wasn't doing anything with the land and now it benefits everybody'
Miriam, landlord
Miriam also gave Hannatu the mattress for her bedroom.
'I had only one goal when my village was under attack – to keep the children safe. I literally threw them out of the window and we ran. We kept running until we were out of reach of the insurgents. I carried the youngest the entire time. It is a miracle we all survived. My landlord … supported me until I could take care of myself. I can be independent again and that is the greatest gift anyone could give me'
The landscape outside Yola. Local communities share the little food, land and drinking water they have, as well as their friendship, fears, compassion and love. This hospitality is not extraordinary, they say – it is their duty to take care of people in need.

Playing host to a village

Abuba (left) is the village head of a community of 2,500 people on the outskirts of Yola. The inhabitants live off their livestock and agriculture. Idrisa (right) was the chief of a community of about 5,000 residents in Gwoza. With Boko Haram approaching, in April 2014 Idrisa was instructed to find a safe place for the villagers. He travelled 350km to Abuba's village where he had heard that his people might be welcome. After consulting with his community, Abuba made a piece of land available to Idrisa for his people. Yet the news came too late for some. Idrisa's village was occupied by Boko Haram on 3 June 2014, and held for two weeks before it was freed by the Nigerian army. More than 3,500 people were killed or captured. Only 1,500 members of the community were able to flee. The village was plundered and burned to the ground.
Idrisa's family
'I am very grateful that we can come here. We dare not go back and besides, there's nothing to go back to. Our beautiful village has nothing left. For now we stay here. The people in the village allow us to work on their land and we may share in the harvest. Abuba has become a good friend of mine. I do what I can to support him. I cannot imagine a life without him'
Abuba and Idrisa
'When I was on my way to get my people, I was warned that it was already occupied. Men and women were killed in front of their children, girls as young as 10 years old were married off – taken prisoner by the occupiers, and boys [were seized] for the armed struggle … My wife and several children walked away, in the middle of the dark night. They were hiding in streams, trees and caves. If you are caught, then you're dead. My wife held her hand over the mouth of the youngest, so she would not cry. She was pregnant and gave birth during the flight. She finally walked eight days and nights before they were here in safety. My eldest daughter is still missing'
'It was an easy decision to provide land to the [displaced people]. If my people have to run some day, I hope there will be a chief out there who would do the same. Some people were afraid at the beginning – how would two communities live so close to each other without problems? … Idrisa and I made some agreements. I said I wanted to meet everybody who comes to stay in the informal camp … But he still is the chief of his community and I am the chief of mine. We go to funerals and weddings together and discuss mutual issues'
Hamajodo, the oldest inhabitant of Abuba's village, holds a baby born three days ago to Asta, in Idrisa's community. The little girl will grow up not knowing what has happened to her family or where they came from. This place will be her only home.
'[Idrisa's] community use our drinking water and we provided some fields to his people. My people helped to build huts with our ropes, wood and other building materials. We shared our food, because many of them were weakened by the journey. Now, the two communities get more integrated every day. We even had some weddings between displaced people and hosts'

'I would be lost without him'

Adam, 59, in the foreground, hosts his nephew Coleman and his children – Barnabas, Deborah and Ladi – who fled the violence in Borno. The picture also shows Adam's three children and their families.
Adam's room
Rosary beads
Church had just started when Coleman heard the sound of machine guns outside. He fled to his nephew Adam with his three children. The escape to safety was difficult as Coleman had a stroke 10 years ago and has Parkinson's. He was a teacher until 2006. His wife died shortly after she gave birth to Ladi. The two men, who hadn't know each other before Coleman fled his home, are now best friends.
'I feel blessed that Coleman came to me. We are good friends and I am happy to take care of him. I served in the army, so my retirement is enough for all of us. My wife died in 2015 and all my children, except my youngest daughter Susan, have their own lives. I share everything I have with Coleman, Barnabas and Ladi. They didn't choose to flee their homes and leave everything behind. It is my moral responsibility to take care of my family'
Coleman's daughters Deborah, five, and Ladi, seven, are best friends with Adam's daughter Suzanna, six. They go to school together, play together and talk all the time. Sometimes they talk about the attack on their village. Suzanna gets scared when they talk about that, so she always covers her ears. She is happy that the girls live with her and doesn't want them to leave.
'I can hardly take care of myself, because my hands are shaking all the time. I can't hold anything and I am too weak to walk or stand on my own. Adam helps me with everything. I would be lost without him. We talk about life a lot. Sometimes I am scared of what my disease will do to me in the future. It is a great comfort that I have Adam'
Coleman and Adam
'We were in church when the insurgents came, so the Holy Bible is all I have with me. It comforts me to read it'


The lives of displaced people and local villagers come together in this mosque in Yola. They pray together, mourn together and celebrate their marriages and births.
A prayer session in the mosque
For decades, the St Theresa's cathedral in Yola has been a safe haven for those who need it. Since the start of the conflict the priest has hosted displaced people in the church. When fighting was at its peak, a thousand women and children were taking shelter here. Now there are about 500. The great hall is divided into a section for widows, one for families and one for adolescent girls. For boys, the priest built a separate residence. In the evening, mattresses are rolled out and people sleep side by side.
John is 16 years old. He was playing with his friend Gideon in the fields when insurgents came to the village. They saw from a distance how soldiers went from door to door looking for boys. They knew they couldn't go back, so they ran together. After hiding in the bush for a while, they took an abandoned bike and rode as fast as they could, eventually ending up at St Theresa's. Gideon's mother arrived here after a few months, but none of John's family have come. It is difficult for the boy to talk about them. He is alone and has no idea how his parents, brothers and sisters are doing. Gideon's mother looks after him now. He studies a lot, to escape from his darker thoughts. The pastor gave him some books and notebooks, which are his only possessions. He wants to serve in the army, so he can protect his village.
A poster displays photos of some of the most wanted Boko Haram fighters. Since the start of the conflict, thousands of people have lost their lives or have gone missing, and 2.1 million have been displaced. Millions of people don't have access to clean water, food, medical care and shelter. Children are out of school and often traumatised by the violence they have witnessed. Families have been torn apart.

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