"In my own backyard"
“In my own backyard, there are 40 displaced families,” says Hauwa Ari, 25, from her home in Banki, northeastern Nigeria.
Over the last few years, Boko Haram violence has forced more than two million people out of their homes across the region. While many live in displacement camps supported by international aid, the majority live with family, friends and strangers in local communities.
“I didn’t know most of the families that moved onto my land,” explains the soft-spoken mother of three.
A local community leader helped connect internally displaced persons (IDPs) with Hauwa about a year ago, when security had improved enough to live in relative safety in the border town once held by Boko Haram.
People of all ages are seeking shelter and safety on Hauwa's land in Banki.
“I’ve become so close with some of the people. When they see me, we greet and kiss. I hold their kids, some of the ladies braid my hair,” she says.
A mother cooks for her children at Hauwa's.
“Even if these families go back to their own homes, towns and villages, I’ll visit them. Our relationships have become so important.”
“I learned about respect and caring from Hauwa,” says Hafsata Mohammed, whose family of 20 has lived on Hauwa’s land for the last nine months. “My oldest son has no job and we have no source of income, having lost so many men to Boko Haram, but we’re living comfortably thanks to her.”
Hauwa inherited the land from her father. She used to rent out the land, as well as some houses, to generate an income, but now she gives everything to displaced people at no cost.
She understands displacement; she spent more than a year outside Banki, seeking safety in small villages to the north of her hometown, which borders Cameroon. Hauwa returned home early last year.
Some families fled with livestock.
“We were never alone,” she says. “We lived in other people’s houses. There were even people from hundreds of kilometres away with us.
Mohammed Ware and his three kids also live on her land, in a shelter provided by the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
“We came here nine months ago because Boko Haram entered our village and terrorized us - forcing young girls to marry and killing men around me,” he says. “They burned our houses and schools. They stole our livestock. We’ve finally found peace here.”
Echoing Mohammed’s experience, Keltume Musa says Boko Haram burned her belongings and stole her family’s 300 cows from their village just outside Banki.
Keltume, her husband and their five children have been displaced for six months. They live in an IOM shelter on Gujja Amet’s land, a few blocks away from Hauwa’s.
“We feel so happy to help these people,” says Gujja, who is taking care of his friend’s land, where about 100 displaced people are living in IOM shelters. The landowner is displaced himself, having fled to Cameroon two years ago because of the conflict. “These shelters allow us to help more people,” he adds.
“I’m carrying on his legacy,” says Alhaji Yakuba.
Alhaji’s father, Goni Umar, was a traditional leader in their community of Marte, a town 130km north of Maiduguri in Borno, northeastern Nigeria.
“We always had people around when I was growing up. We shared our house and food,” he says. “It didn’t matter if they were strangers… I remember days when as many as 30 people would come to our home for food or my father’s help.”
Today, it’s Alhaji who is helping others. He has given land to 3,000 displaced people in Maiduguri.
Alhaji's large property in Maiduguri housed 10,000 cows and a cement factory, about 15 years ago. Both family businesses eventually failed, largely because of Boko Haram, who stole nearly 900 cows from him in 2014, when the violence escalated, he says.
“We’ll go home when we hear it’s safe,” says Hauwa Madu from Mafa, 55km east of Maiduguri. For now, she and her family live in makeshift and IOM shelters on Alhaji's land.
“There were about 100 displaced people at first. Some I knew from Marte, but many I didn’t know,” says Alhaji. “The number started growing. That’s when I asked IOM for support.”
IOM has built shelters for 300 families, approximately 2,100 people, on Alhaji’s land. They are elevated on the old cement slabs from the factory to protect them from flooding during the rainy season.
He also shares his home and yard in Maiduguri with another 40 displaced individuals.
“My family is happy – my kids can grow up and be like my father, too,” Alhaji says. “He would be happy if he were alive… to see I’m doing something great.”
“My brother bought this land to develop it for his motorcycle business,” says Bukar Kaje. “Instead, we offered it to displaced families after more and more people started arriving in 2015."
“Most of these displaced people come from Marte near Lake Chad. That’s where I’m from, too. I left home two years ago, to join my brother in Maiduguri, after Boko Haram held me at gunpoint,” he explains.
“People still arrive from there. They escape during the night because Boko Haram has blocked so many ways in and out of the town.”
“We asked Wilson from IOM to build shelters for displaced people on our land. They built 75, enough for 150 families,” Bukar says. “They also helped free space between the makeshift shelters to make the place more comfortable.”
“We've given homes to more than 1,000 displaced people, but there’s no food to give them," Bukar explains. "These are people who are used to farming corn and rice. They can’t do that now."
“I wish I could give them more.”
Meeting communities' needs
Whether working with Bukar and Alhaji in Maiduguri, central Borno, or Hauwa in Banki near Cameroon, IOM meets communities where they are.
“We adjust our approaches to ensure they address local needs, developing communal spaces for families to cook together, for example," explains Tommy Sandløkk, an architect and site planner at IOM Nigeria."
“It’s really important that we work with community leaders and landowners to build new camps or support existing ones that reflect the diverse people who live in them," he says.
IOM has given temporary and longer-term shelters to around 50,000 displaced Nigerians in the northeast over the last year and a half, as part of the emergency response to the displacement crisis.
Nearly two million people are still displaced in the region because of Boko Haram, according to IOM’s Displacement Tracking Matrix.
IOM Nigeria’s emergency response, which started in 2014, has supported nearly 520,000 individuals across the northeast with shelters, household items, and counselling and mental health services.
The response also includes managing camps, biometrically registering internally displaced persons and affected communities, and tracking displacement.