Dadji is a young mother from PK 13 in Bangui. She fled the violence 3 years ago to Chad. Dadji and her children decided to return to Kaga Bandoro recently. They haven’t received any food assistance for four months now.

"When we arrived we were given food, but since then nothing. We are forced to fetch wood from the bush and sell it to get something to eat.

We need help. Where we are, we don't have a school or a hospital.
The international community has forgotten us. For four months we have not received any help.

I am afraid because we are not safe, even in this camp. All over the country, when we sleep at night, we are afraid." Dadji said.

Date: 10th February 2021
Location: Mbela camp - Kaga Bandoro
Photo: Tom Peyre-Costa/NRC
Neglected crises

To end neglect, we need your help

How much do you know about the displacement crises sweeping through Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Venezuela?

Unseen. Unheard. Unknown.

Unless you are directly affected by one of these crises, my guess is not much. It’s not because you don’t care. Quite the opposite. You are a compassionate person, who cares deeply about people who have been forced to flee their homes. That’s why you clicked to read this article. The reason these crises are unknown to you is because you’re not being told about them.

What is a displacement crisis – and why are some neglected?

A displacement crisis occurs when people are “displaced” from their homes in large numbers due to conflict, disaster or persecution. When this happens, aid organisations usually mobilise to provide assistance to those in need.

However, although humanitarian aid should be based on needs, and needs alone, some crises receive more attention and support than others. It’s down to a complex and vicious cycle, starting with political will.

There are some crises that are of little geo-political interest to world leaders. Perhaps the conflicts that are causing the displacement have little security impact on their own countries, and so there is no motivation to help end them.

Take Burkina Faso as an example. Violence in northern Mali spilled into Burkina Faso in 2018, igniting insecurity that engulfed large swathes of the country. Civilians were caught in the crossfire. Hunger levels rose dramatically, and Burkina Faso became the fastest growing displacement crisis in 2019. But because the majority of those fleeing didn’t cross any international borders, the crisis gained very little international attention. The people of Burkina Faso, who have had their lives turned upside down in such a short amount of time, are suffering unnoticed.

In other conflicts, the opposite is the case: there are many actors with conflicting political interests, and no-one is willing to compromise.

Crisis fatigue

Then, there are those conflicts that have lasted a long time – so long, in fact, that the public get tired of hearing about them and find it difficult to believe that anything can be done to change the situation.

DR Congo is a good example of this. Tracing back to colonial times, “the Congo” was presented in popular culture as a place of violence – as exemplified in Joseph Conrad’s classic novella from 1899, Heart of Darkness.

Now, when violence is causing significant hunger and displacement in modern-day DR Congo, the world shrugs its shoulders. There is no urgency to end the crisis, and people suffer greatly as a result of the indifference.

Finally, there’s the media. The lack of media attention can be linked to the amount of political attention a crisis is receiving. If a crisis is seen as irrelevant to the international community, the media will be less inclined to report on it.

Out of sight, out of mind

There’s also an issue with distance and access. Crises in faraway places are far less likely to be reported on than issues that are at the front door. And for places that are very dangerous and difficult to access, journalists are often unable to obtain the information and material they need to report on the crisis.

This is true in Cameroon. The organisation Reporters Without Borders, which campaigns for greater freedom of expression, ranks the country 135th out of 180 countries in its World Press Freedom Index. It reports frequent detention and prosecution of journalists. It also reports that the internet is often cut off in some parts of the country. Few international journalists are able to gain access to the conflict areas.

“When the crisis started I was going to school and at the same time helping my mom with her business. But, the fighting made things tough, business was tight, it was hard. I continued to go to school but the boys would come and meet us in school and beat us, then drive us away from school and force us to go back to the house. I have been beaten not once, not twice, but many times by those boys. They don’t want us to go to school, to make a future for ourselves and the society. If we go, they will beat you up and attack your family. So, I had to stop school because my family was really in danger,” Kelly, 21 years old, tells us when we meet her in November 2019.

The boys are what the armed separatists are called locally in the North West province. In 2016, as English-speaking lawyers, students and teachers began protesting what they saw as their cultural marginalisation and under-representation in the central government, the Government forces hit back with a hard hand. Several armed separatist groups emerged and eventually declared independence 1. October 2017. They called their new country Ambazonia. 

Kelly lived in a big compound with her mom, dad, her siblings and extended family. Her parents ran a business and they had a farm.

“I had many people around me back then, but due to the crisis I have just a few left.”

On 11. February 2016, on the National Youth Day, clashes were intense in her village. The separatist did not recognise the youth day and put up the Ambazonia flag and the military retaliated. 

“The military came to our compound. The gate was closed, but they climbed the fence and entered. They shot at anybody they saw, they never cared to know who was who, they were just shooting. My younger sister and myself were hiding under a bed. My uncle was also there and they just entered the room and shot him, thinking he was one of those boys. They shot him right in front of me and my sister. After that, there was no way we could sleep in the house, so we fled to the bush and slept there. In the morning we came back and took my uncle to the morgue to prepare the funeral. That’s when my mom and my dad decided that we should look for another way for me to go to school, because staying in the village, doing nothing, will not help me so it’s better I leave”.

Three months later, at the age of 18, Kelly left her home to go to Yaoundé. She found a place to live and started to work to save up money to continue her education and slowly built a new life for herself over the next three years. She felt safe again. Then, everything changed. 

“I lost my dad 5. November. This month. I was not in the village when it happened, but they told me that he got up at night to ease himself. We do not have a toilet inside the compound so he had to go outside. Unfortunately, he was shot that night. He was taken to the hospital, but they could not save him.”

Every bullet victim is automatically investigated in the area, so the police came to talk to the family and her mother tried to answer all their questions. They found out it was the separatists, the boys, who had shot him. The situation was very intense in the village in that period. Kelly travelled from Yaoundé to the village for the funeral and then quickly returned to the capital due to the fighting. 

Two days after her dad was killed, another crisis hit the family. Kelly’s older sister got kidnapped by the boys. The kidnappers asked for 2,5 million francs in ransom for the group. The family tried to raise 500 000 francs. Kelly gave 50 000 francs that she had managed to save during her time in Yaoundé. These were the money she would use for her school fees, but instead she had to spend them to pay for her dad’s funeral and now her sister’s kidnapping. Together, the family managed to find money and her sister was released. 

“My sister was badly beaten. All her body; wounds, wounds, wounds. Fortunately, she was not raped, because those boys don’t sleep with girls who have their period. So, that was the only way she was saved from those guys. It was a miracle.”

After Kelly’s sister was released, she fled for safety to Bamenda, a bigger town in the area, where she is trying to attend some classes now and then. Kidnappings for ransom have become a regular thing in the province. Armed separatist groups have killed, tortured, assaulted, and kidnapped dozens of people, including students, teachers, clergy, and administrative and traditional authorities.

“I think the boys are kidnapping because they need money to purchase weapons,” Kelly states.

While her sister was still missing, Kelly received yet another call, this time from an unknown number, telling her she had to come back to the village for an emergency. They did not say what had happened, just that she had to come as fast as she could. Kelly was afraid she would lose her job if she left so soon after she had just been away for her dad’s funeral, but had to go and risk it. 

“As I entered the compound, everyone was crying. The first thing I asked was ‘Where is my mom?’ Everybody was crying in silence. They asked me to sit down, but I said ‘No, I don’t want to sit down, I want to see my mom.’ Then they told me that my mom had passed away. I had a shock. The next thing I remember is waking up in the hospital. I spent two days there.”

“My mom was shot by those boys due to the investigation after my dad was killed. They know our house. They came inside our compound and asked for her. They shot her with four bullets to her body and left. No one else was shot. My mom was their main target. The boys were angry, because she spoke to the police. They don’t want us to have anything to do with the police.”

In less than a week, both Kelly’s parents had been killed. Her sister had been kidnapped. 

She did not feel safe. 

“At the funeral ground the boys kept looking at me. Just looking, looking, looking. I felt like I was going to be the next target. I had to leave the village, cause my life was in danger. It was a lot of gunshots. Everywhere. Everywhere! So, I managed to take the bush backroad and was lucky to find a taxi and I took it straight to Bamenda and then back here to Yaoundé. I told no one I was back. I just stayed inside for a week, mourning my mom and my dad. No school. No work. Just mourning them.”

In this period, she was also told to move out from the room she shared with a friend and this one’s sister who felt it had become too crowded. Now, Kelly needs to find a new place to rent, but with soaring housing process in the capital and her savings gone, it’s not an easy task. 

“I lost my dad. I lost my mom. My sister was kidnapped. So, all my savings are gone. I’m back to square one. Even to have a meal per day is difficult. I tried to get an advance from my boss. I tried to borrow money from friends so I can afford to move into a new place.”

Kelly now works in a school canteen five days a week. She leaves the house at 5am, works, comes back at 2pm. Rests for a little while, then goes to evening school until 9pm. At night she can seldom afford to eat, so she goes to bed and gets up again at 2am to study when the house is quiet. 

“I really need to go to school. Education is the key to life. Education is the highest thing. It was my parents’ dream for me, to go to school, to become something great in life that make you stand out in a population and talk like a woman. Even though they are no more, I have to work hard for myself and achieve my dreams.”

Kelly dreamt of becoming a lawyer, or a medical doctor, but now she is thinking accounting or management is more realistic. Or, play the American lottery and see if she can leave the country. 

“Even though it’s hard to lose two parents at the same time, it’s nothing I can do. All the things they used to do for me, I now need to do alone. It’s hell. But, this is what my fate has decided for me. I just need to move on with life.”

Photo: Ingebjørg Kårstad/NRC
Read caption CAMEROON: Both Kelly’s* parents were shot and killed. Her sister was kidnapped. She is too afraid to reveal her face and name in case she is targeted too. This is common in Cameroon and means that many of the atrocities inflicted on innocent civilians go unreported by the international media. Photo: Ingebjørg Kårstad/NRC

But ultimately, it’s down to you

The media machines produce content that they think you want to read. In healthy democracies, politicians respond when their constituents are outraged and demanding action.

So, the more you see, hear and know about these neglected crises, the more politicians and the media will stop neglecting them. And this means, in turn, more people knowing and therefore caring about them. We must be outraged that the suffering of millions of people goes unnoticed.

We can’t do much alone. But together, we can break the cycle of neglect.

Find out more about neglected displacement crises.

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NRC will not ignore these crises. We are responding to the most neglected crises in the world, helping people in desperate need.