“How long do you expect to be in Niger?” I asked Abdul Hamid, a refugee from Mali. When I interviewed him last summer, he predicted that his family would remain displaced for “months or years”. Returning was not an option, so long as violent fundamentalists continued to terrorize his community.
Where is he now, nearly a year later? Given the enduring civil war in Mali, he’s likely still in the same Tabareybarey refugee camp, located 40 kilometres inside the border. Run by the United Nations, the camp provides much of what he needs: relative safety, food, clean water, and a medical tent. Still, when our crew visited the camp during the filming of “A New Leaf
”, I could not fathom spending more than a day there.
Even by the arid standards of the Sahel region, the terrain was inhospitably barren. The camp’s inhabitants could do nothing but sit in their tents, day after day, taking shelter from the unyielding midday sun. Scrawny goats — the fortunate ones that weren’t been abandoned en route — wandered about, plucking the last dry leaves from the trees. Our presence was a welcome diversion for the children, who loved seeing their faces played back on the LCD screens of our cameras.
According to the UN
, there are still 8800 people in this camp, which holds just under a fifth of all Malian refugees in Niger. At present, NGOs are contending with a cholera outbreak
in the packed camps.
Incidentally, Pope Francis raised the issue of refugees this past Friday in an address to the Plenary Assembly
of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Travelers. He told participants that “the Church is Mother and her maternal attention is manifested with particular tenderness and closeness to one who is constrained to flee from his own country and who lives between uprootedness and integration.”
Our visit to the Tabareybarey camp is documented in the S+L film “A New Leaf”. S+L will air the film tomorrow at 8:00 pm ET / 5:00pm PT, repeating at 12:00 midnight ET / 9:00pm PT. Also this Wednesday – for one day only – S+L will be streaming the film on demand here
. In the meantime, watch the trailer above.