From displacement to homecoming: Dispatch from Nigeria | Refugees

It was a typical hot day in Borno state, northeastern Nigeria. The temperature spiked to 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) as I sat in a makeshift tent in the town of Ngarannam last October.

The occasion was special: Up to 3,000 people returned to their towns after seven years living in the Inland Migrants (IDP) camps in Maiduguri, 50 kilometers (31 miles) away. They fled their town when it was razed to ashes by the armed group Boko Haram.

Among them is Dana Adam, a widow who lost her husband to a cholera outbreak in the IDP camp and is now the sole provider for her three children.

Adam is one of millions of people for whom the conflict has had a catastrophic impact. But now there is some hope. Like the others, she now has a new home in a rebuilt community, featuring a school and police station, market stalls, solar-powered street lights and a government-owned water well. Borno State, United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and authorized partners. part of a joint initiative to rebuild the Lake Chad Region.

For thousands of people including Adam and her children, it was an opportunity in the first place, a chance to reclaim what was taken from them: memories, feelings of belonging, and dignity. their.

However, when I stepped onto the stage to deliver my welcome speech, I found myself filled with mixed emotions. A satisfaction in what we have achieved together but also a reawakening of memories of my own loss and inadequacy.

I was forced to leave my mother’s hometown in Somalia when I was three years old. Political repression in the early 1980s in Somalia forced my family to flee and travel more than 300 miles (483km) to the Kenyan coastal town of Malindi.

Although I have little recollection of the events or circumstances that brought us to Kenya, I do know that they were the same events that would later turn into full-blown conflict and protracted political instability. until today. It deprives me and millions of other Somalis of the opportunity to renew and reconnect with a long and fractured relationship with the homeland.

Ngarannam shows that there can be an alternative, brighter future for people displaced by violence like my family did.

This is a prototype community and one of eight areas we are developing through the Lake Chad Regional Stabilization Facility across the four conflict-affected countries of Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon. The idea is not only to restore destroyed buildings and infrastructure, but also to create a sense of pride and belonging, dignity and independence.

Being involved in a project that allows communities to begin to heal the psychological scars of displacement has been a psychological release for me.

When designing and rebuilding Ngarannam, we wanted to make sure the community played an important role in rebuilding their ruined town. A group of Nigerian innovators led by Nigerian female architect, Tosin Oshinowo, was invited to participate.

They ensure that the ideas and needs of Adam and other returnees like her are at the heart of the design. Because to return home after fleeing violence and destruction, one needs more than rebuilt physical infrastructure. Feelings of security and new ways to make a living are also important.

For families returning to Ngarannam, it means the process of starting over is challenging and overwhelming. So the town’s revitalization roadmap also focuses on helping families build a sustainable source of income. That includes resources like funding and training to start a business; the construction of shops for merchants; and livestock for breeders. Idea: To help the community, including women, not only restart their lives, but do it with pride.

Finding self-reliance after years of funding in IDP camps has never been easy. However, despite these challenges, many in Ngarannam have now successfully made the transition. Determination is overcoming the fear of starting over. Adam and women like her are happy to return home and regain their lives and livelihoods.

“Now that we have returned to our village and live in peace,” Adam said, “that alone is an accomplishment for me.”

As the United Nations comes together to continue to support and find sustainable solutions for displaced people, we are guided by the United Nations Secretary-General action program on internal displacement. This reminds us all of our collective obligation to assist displaced people to return to their places of origin voluntarily and with dignity.

Welcoming the people of Ngarannam into their home gives me a sense of pride. I hope that one day, I too can walk freely around the place of my birth with the joy and promise that I have seen in the eyes of the people of Ngarannam.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of Al Jazeera.


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