Refugees turn to knit­ting and hair­dress­ing

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS -

When armed gun­men stormed Ashta Sa­hade’s home­town of Bo­caranga in Cen­tral African epub­lic, the only pos­ses­sion she grabbed as she fled was her un­wieldy rec­tan­gu­lar knit­ting ma­chine. Dur­ing the two-day jour­ney to safety in nearby Chad, on foot and on the back of a stranger’s bi­cy­cle, sin­gle mother Sa­hade, 27, car­ried the ma­chine pre­car­i­ously on her head, con­vinced it was the key to her and her three-year-old’s sur­vival.

In the vil­lage of Diba 1 in south­ern Chad, she was proven right. Not only does she make knit­ted goods to sell, she also teaches lo­cal Cha­dian women to do the same in a bid to boost her in­come. She is not alone. In the past year, the pop­u­la­tion of Diba has more than dou­bled as a spike in vi­o­lence in Cen­tral African Repub­lic sends more refugees across the bor­der. On the main road, dozens of new ar­rivals have set up makeshift trad­ing stalls within days of es­cap­ing the con­flict back home. They sell ev­ery­thing from fresh beef cuts and tai­lored trousers to glossy hair ex­ten­sions and beauty treat­ments.

Lo­ca­tion, Lo­ca­tion, Lo­ca­tion

Key to the refugees’ abil­ity to get by, along with their en­trepreneur­ship, is their lo­ca­tion. They live not in iso­lated camps, where res­i­dents of­ten strug­gle to find enough money to meet their needs, but in the midst of a Cha­dian vil­lage, where ba­sic in­fra­struc­ture is al­ready in place and lo­cals are among their main cus­tomers. Most build their own homes from tree branches and straw.

“The idea is that it is bet­ter for refugees to set­tle in host com­mu­ni­ties rather than putting them in a camp where op­por­tu­ni­ties, in­clud­ing mix­ing with the lo­cals, can be limited,” said Ibrahima Diane, a public information of­fi­cer with the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) in Chad. This new ap­proach by in­ter­na­tional aid agen­cies in south­ern Chad is also be­ing rolled out in the east for refugees from Su­dan, as well as in other parts of Africa.

It ben­e­fits vil­lagers too as the in­fra­struc­ture set up in host com­mu­ni­ties by the agen­cies, in­clud­ing wells, clin­ics and schools, can be used by ev­ery­one. To­day, close to 10,400 refugees from Cen­tral African Repub­lic live across 23 vil­lages in south­ern Chad, while about 60,500 oth­ers are housed in six refugee camps. In Diba, Cha­dian cou­ple Aime Eri-Ada and Cather­ine Yawa Gom are wait­ing to see the nurse at the vil­lage’s new health post with their baby who has malaria. “He was vom­it­ing. I brought him here ur­gently,” said Eri-Ada. Be­fore, the fam­ily had to walk 8 km to get med­i­cal treat­ment. The area has no paved roads and its muddy paths of­ten turn into swamps in the rainy sea­son. Trav­ellers dodge snakes and mos­qui­toes, hitching rides on over­loaded lor­ries. But with five chil­dren, trips to the doc­tor are un­avoid­able. “There are many prob­lems of malaria, di­ar­rhea and so on,” said Eri-Ada. “Now we can come here - and it’s free.”

18 Cents a Day

Yet re­sources are stretched to break­ing point. At the clinic, refugees and lo­cals com­plain there of­ten isn’t enough med­i­ca­tion - and that is just the tip of the ice­berg. Refugees, some of whom ar­rived a few days ago, told the Thom­son Reuters Foun­da­tion they barely re­ceive any food ra­tions. Sa­hade is en­ti­tled to aid of 3,000 Cen­tral African francs ($5.38) each month in cash or food vouch­ers - the equiv­a­lent of about 18 cents a day. Yet the last time this pal­try al­lowance ma­te­ri­al­ized was five months ago, she said. “My big­gest prob­lems are the lack of food, the lack of money - and hav­ing enough strength to keep on work­ing,” she said, breast­feed­ing her two-week-old baby. Spillover from the con­flict in Cen­tral African Repub­lic - which has pro­duced at least seven waves of refugees since 2003 fu­elled by im­punity, ma­raud­ing gangs and il­le­gal di­a­mond trad­ing - is largely for­got­ten in a part of the world most peo­ple would strug­gle to pin­point on a map.

Be­tween 2014 and 2017, 34 out of 57 aid agen­cies work­ing in south­ern Chad pulled out due to a lack of fund­ing, ac­cord­ing to the UN Of­fice for the Co­or­di­na­tion of Hu­man­i­tar­ian Af­fairs. So far this year, only about a third of the $588.6 mil­lion re­quested by a UN-backed ap­peal to fund hu­man­i­tar­ian re­sponse in Chad for 2017 has been do­nated. The World Food Pro­gramme says land­locked, arid Chad faces a crit­i­cal short­fall in food sup­ply, while the 2016 Global Hunger In­dex places it sec­ond last out of 117 coun­tries. In­ad­e­quate food ra­tions are linked to many other prob­lems, in­clud­ing mal­nu­tri­tion, early mar­riage, do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, and women and chil­dren hav­ing sex to sur­vive, aid work­ers and refugees say. “There are many or­phans, chil­dren sep­a­rated from their fam­i­lies, un­ac­com­pa­nied mi­nors - many of them haven’t been to school for two years. We need sup­port,” said Idriss Dairou, pres­i­dent of the refugees’ as­so­ci­a­tion in Diba.

The sit­u­a­tion is com­pounded by Chad’s own prob­lems. The 2016 Hu­man De­vel­op­ment In­dex ranks it as the world’s third least-de­vel­oped coun­try after Cen­tral African Repub­lic and Niger. Of its 14.2 mil­lion peo­ple, al­most half live be­low the poverty line. Yet it is also the African coun­try that takes in the big­gest num­ber of refugees pro­por­tion­ate to its pop­u­la­tion, ac­cord­ing to the United Na­tions.

Given the low level of aid, refugees in Diba want in­ter­na­tional part­ners to help them with farm­ing, animal-rear­ing and other ac­tiv­i­ties, Dairou said. “This way we can try and work our­selves in or­der to have enough to eat,” he said. The in­ter­na­tional hu­man­i­tar­ian arm of the Lutheran World Fed­er­a­tion (LWF) has set up cen­tres in camps to train mixed groups of refugees and lo­cals in skills such as carpentry, me­chan­ics, tai­lor­ing, wood­work and IT. —Reuters

Re­sources are stretched to break­ing point

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