AFRICA/NIGER - Humanitarian crisis in the Sahel region: Catholic Church provides aid

Wednesday, 13 December 2023 refugees   displaced persons   fidei donum  

Niamey (Agenzia Fides) - The Sahel is increasingly at risk of becoming a "humanitarian black hole". In addition to the region's internally displaced people, refugees from neighboring countries such as Nigeria and Sudan also live there under precarious conditions. The security crisis affecting the region has several causes. Conflicts between the sedentary farming population and the nomadic pastoralist population have been exacerbated in recent years by climate change, which has led to a reduction in pasture areas and water sources. The jihadist groups that have been wreaking havoc in the region for several years have been recruiting new recruits due to deteriorating local economic conditions. The overthrow of the Gaddafi regime in Libya, which in its own way guaranteed a kind of "Pax Libica" by providing economic support to the states in the region, has been marked by the influx of weapons from Libyan arsenals and of fighters, former members of Gaddafi's bodyguard, also contributed to the destabilization of the region. In all this, the Catholic Church remains present, albeit with many difficulties, and tries to provide pastoral and humanitarian assistance. In Diffa, a city in the far southeast of Niger, internally displaced Christians meet refugees fleeing religious persecution in neighboring Nigeria and Chad, according to a statement from the Regional Bishops' Conference of West Africa (CERAO/RECOWA). Here, Catholic aid organizations, including Caritas Niger, Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (CAFOD), help displaced people and refugees by providing them with a livelihood. It is precisely under these conditions that the universality of the Catholic Church becomes apparent. The believers in the displaced persons and refugee camps are supported by “Fidei Donum” priests from other African countries. This is the case of Father Mark Robert, originally from Malawi, who runs a Catholic mission in Zinder, about 400 kilometers from Diffa, where he celebrates mass for dozens of Catholics in refugee camps. Most of the people housed in the Diffa camps are Nigerians from Borno and Yobe states fleeing Boko Haram violence. Another “Fidei Donum” priest is Augustine Anwuchie from Nigeria, parish priest of the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes in Maradi (Niger), who recalls how the region around Lake Chad, on the border between Chad, Niger, Nigeria and Cameroon, has transformed being a favorable environment for farmers and herders from these four countries, to an unsafe area. "Before the terrorists came to this area, there were small clashes between farmers and herders who were fighting over the fertile area," the priest said. "It was only after the formation of Boko Haram in 2009 that the region began to experience an influx of terrorists. In 2016, the Boko Haram movement began carrying out attacks in the Lake Chad region." The Nigerian priest points out that "the Lake Chad region has been abandoned by the government, which has made it a haven for arms trafficking." "Boko Haram has used this loophole to recruit terrorists and carry out attacks in the region to perpetrate," he emphasizes. The recent military coups in three states in the region (Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali) have aggravated the situation because, as Rahmane Idrissa, researcher at Leiden University, recalls in an interview with Agenzia Fides (see Fides, 1/12/2023), the Sahelian security crisis in the Sahel "is very complex and complicated. A purely military solution alone is not enough to solve it. A political and economic solution is required. The military, because of their profession, mainly think of a military solution. In my opinion they are not able to solve the problem; on the contrary, I fear they will make it worse." (L.M.) (Agenzia Fides, 13/12/2023)