This is a few days old, but I read an interesting article on Niger in the New York Times. It is on the influx of refugees that have crossed over into Niger from Lybia since the war started there. Most of them are originally from Niger and had moved to Lybia to find work. Hat tip to Danny Kopp for this article – it is called a hat tip right? Anyway, you can read the article here.
The article claims that there have been 200,000 people who have come, which seems crazy to me, but since I have been here I have heard some say that this figure is a bit high. In any case, there are quite a few people coming over the border, looking for food and work, and it is clear that there are not much of either to go around. I feel especially bad for people like the guy in the article who is an environmental safety officer. He had a pretty good job, and by Nigerien standards was pretty well off (even though he had to put up with racism in Lybia), but now he is back home, and his prospects are not good. Like he said, “They don’t even understand what I do.” I am sure they could use some environmental safety officers in Niger. In fact, someone just told me that people joke and say that the plastic bag is Niger’s national bird because they are seen blowing around everywhere. However, it is hard to put environmental matters as a priority when people are starving.
Aside from the obvious economic strain that all these refugees are causing, it is also a very dangerous situation, because, as the article states, people with no prospects are often targeted as recruits for terrorist organizations, some of which are trying to get a foothold in Niger. People in extreme situations take extreme measures, and when people lack all hope the results can be disastrous. That is one of the reasons why the CURE hospital is so important here in Niger – it is a place full of hope and promise, and a place where people are given a chance at a better future. That is the key, when people feel like they have a stake in the future, they work to build up their community, and not destroy it. I am full of optimism about the future of Niger. The people here seem so great and so full of life, and I can’t wait to see what is in store for them.