BY: Amanda Nero

"When your neighbor's beard is on fire, fetch water and soak your own," goes a Hausa proverb.

On the border with Nigeria, the town of Diffa, Niger – one of the world’s poorest countries – has borne the brunt of Boko Haram’s insurgency. So much so that in February 2015, Niger declared a 15-day state of emergency across the Diffa region after a spate of attacks by the group.

Nowadays, Diffa hosts refugees from Nigeria and internally displaced people (IDPs) mainly from Niger’s border areas fleeing violence and imminent attacks from Boko Haram. There are also many others fleeing climate and environmental change.

The region used to be a transit point for other migrants from West Africa trying to reach Libya and Algeria and then cross the Mediterranean to reach Europe. However, this kind of migration flow has diminished considerably due to the insecurity in the region caused by the activities of Boko Haram.

In the Nigerien village of Boudoum, IDPs were housed at a local school. Later, with the help of the village chief they were able to find places to stay in the village.

"They have been here 7 months and 10 days", says an elderly villager. "We have a very good relationship, we have the same culture. They are welcome here," he adds.

Nevertheless, the rapid increase in the number of people now living in the village has presented a heavy burden on the water supply and sanitation systems which are not sufficient to serve a tripled population.

Still the old man says, "They are welcome here."

To contain Boko Haram, Diffa's regional government has taken several measures to protect the people in the region. These include militarization of the area, since September 2015 when the Général de Division Abdou Kaza became Governor of Diffa, and the prohibition of circulation of motorbikes in the region to avoid easy access for kamikazes (suicide bombers) and gunmen. 

“This was an important measure of security,” says Governor Kaza. He however acknowledges that this has affected the livelihoods of many.

“On another hand more than 1,000 young people have lost their jobs as they worked as motorbike taxi drivers. Mechanics and sellers of motorbike parts were also affected."

Another measure which has had drastic and far reaching effects was the banning of fishing, which while cutting off some of one of Boko Haram’s income sources has also deprived the population of an important economic activity and a source of food.

These measures combined have gone some way in weakening Boko Haram’s decentralized power structure and according to Governor Kaza, this partly explains why people are now coming back to Diffa since the crises in 2015.

Due to the lack of jobs, people are more vulnerable to being recruited by Boko Haram. "They offer money and motorbikes to trick the youth to join the group. When they realize that to be part of Boko Haram is not what they expected, it is already too late," says the local chief of police, Mamane Youssoufou. He adds that the reintegration of people who have managed to abandon Boko Haram is not easy as in most cases family and friends do not want them back.

Furthermore, displacement is creating a new scenario in the region. Along the national highway, makeshift houses made out of plastic and seccos (tressed straws) are ubiquitous. "They stay near the highway because they feel safer there and the access to humanitarian assistance is easier," Governor Kaza explains. 

N'gourtoua is one of those settlements along the highway and is home to more than 400 households of mostly IDPs who fled Boko Haram. "We used to farm and fish. Here we can’t grow food, perhaps we can do some small commerce," Chétima Lauvan, the chief of the N’gourtoua village explains.

IOM has assisted the population of N’gourtoua with 350 shelters and NFIs.

Besides N’gourtoua, there are other villages that have been created out of the displacement caused by Boko Haram activities. For example, the area where Djalori village is located was previously just a vast desert bordering the National Highway. Since the beginning of 2015, however, it has became a new ‘home’ for more than 5,000 Nigerians refugees fleeing Boko Haram. 

"We are facing a livelihood difficulties with limited resources and very often lack access to clean water," the village chief Boulama Issa says.

Diffa is at the centre of a complex migration reality where Boko Haram and climate change play a central and devastating role. IOM is active in this area and will continue to work with partners and provide much needed support to the refugee and internally displaced communities.