Cape Town – For the past two years, people living in the Lake Chad region have been exposed to violent attacks by the insurgent group Boko Haram, resulting in massive displacements and a serious humanitarian crisis.
The Lake Chad region includes western countries like Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger and Chad.
According to the humanitarian aid organisation, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) the attacks have since increased in recent weeks and the situation in several refugee camps in the region is “becoming unliveable”. This is despite increased military presence.
See the interactive map below.
At least 75 000 people have fled their homes in Chad alone while in northeast Nigeria around 1,4 million have been displaced.
MSF says the basic humanitarian and mental health needs for the people have increased, while insecurity in the region limits the ability for many aid organisations to work. People live in constant fear and struggle to access the assistance they need.
Among those seeking psychological support in MSF’s refugee camp clinic in Chad, one in four show signs of depression, while sleeping disorders, severe emotional reactions and trauma-related anxiety reactions are common.
Fleeing Boko Haram attacks and arriving to extremely difficult living conditions is traumatic.
As MSF’s psychologist recounts Forline Madjibeye; "I saw Abeni, a 16-year-old girl who fled from Baga in Nigeria. Both her parents and neighbours were killed. She took her little brother and her nephew, as well as the four children of her neighbours, and eventually made it here. I spoke to her and she told me she still didn’t have a refugee card and therefore, not receiving food."
The teenage girl came to the camp with six of her siblings.
Madjibeye says the responsibility of taking care of six children in a refugee camp, combined with her bad experience in Nigeria, has taken an "enormous" toll on Abeni.
She continues to experience the fear, cannot sleep, is extremely stressed and suffers from depression because her future is completely uncertain.
"We want to be able to give back some sense of control to Abeni so she can better handle the fear and sadness she is experiencing and take care of the children and herself. This is not an easy situation. Others have sadly been through it too," says Madjibeye.
Another psychologists, Aurelia Morabito says the process of recovery is long.
"People have witnessed horrible things, they become refugees, and then they arrive to a camp where life in grim and very tough. Initially, they have post-traumatic stress, they cannot sleep. But there is no option but to stay. You are not only a victim of Boko Haram, you now have to go through the process of accepting life as a refugee, of having to live in a different place, and of having to live with the reality that you have no idea what tomorrow holds," says Morabito.
The aim of the mental health team is to provide support to the refugees to lessen the burden of the trauma and to ensure they have a professional to talk to for as long as they need.
Sinjce March, MSF psychologists have provided individual, family and couple consultations to at least 524 patients.