For the Terre des hommes team in Burkina Faso, the day’s assignment was to get to Inabao (in the frontier zone to Mali) where 600 refugees were staying, to identify the children amongst them and to see to their needs and help with taking them to the camp in Goudebo, further to the south. Inabao is the place where many Malians have taken refuge from the fighting and atrocities. Getting there is complicated and the security situation is delicate, only local personnel can go there. Lacking proper refugee camps (UN standards insist that a camp must be at least 50 km from the fighting zone), the UN High Commission for Refugees (HCR) has all the same been able to establish a transit centre there for registering and looking after the new refugees.
Dori, in northern Burkina Faso, Sahel region, at 6 a.m. It’s time to leave for Inabao. The convoy consists of a round dozen vehicles. Softly, the long line of dust sinks back into the Burkina Sahel. The atmosphere in the convoy is good-natured. After three hours on the road, there’s a 10 minute stop to pay a routine visit to the military camp of Tin Akof, but once back in their vehicles, the team members realise that the convoy is now ready to go into the danger zone of Inabao: the atmosphere changes and tension can be read on everyone’s face.
When the convoy reaches Inabao, it is 10 a.m. Police see to safety. In fact, only 18 kilometres away is the notorious lawless zone where non-state armed groups still rule despite the recapture of the large towns in the north. Fully conscious of the danger, the team members want to carry on with the mission to which they are committed. It is 40° in the shade, and there are no buildings around, so registering the refugees is done under makeshift shelters. Mainly from Gossi or Gao, over 100 km from Inabao, the refugees often arrive exhausted, bewildered and marked by what they have gone through. Most of them have had to leave behind all they possessed.
It is now essential to pre-register the unaccompanied or lost children. Thanks particularly to Tdh and the HCR, a system has been set up to allow the teams to start putting identification bracelets on the little ones. Registering continues in the Goudebo camp where there are already 10,000 Malians, and where the work of Terre des hommes means that children can have access to services for protection and schooling.
At 2 p.m., the teams are back in the cars with the satisfaction of having done a good job. The anxiety they felt on arrival at Inabao falls away like the grains of sand as the convoy passes. Calm reigns and tiredness comes over them for the rest of the trip. After another four hours on the road, the team is back in Dori. According to Mamadou Aliazi Toure, head of the zone for Tdh in the Sahel region, this trip will leave a mark on the team’s minds: “Having gone all over the Sahel across the refugee camps, having been in close contact with the misery and insecurity of the daily lives of the refugees, there are only two options – to become totally insensitive to the suffering of others or to imagine one’s own life under such conditions, and decide to take action.”
A wonderful day’s work . . .