Follow the perilous journey of refugee children in Africa’s Lake Chad Region and walk a virtual mile in their shoes.
Chased from their homes, risking it all, these girls and boys had to cross forests, deserts and swamps with or without shoes. Escaping Boko Haram-related violence in Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Cameroon, they all have one thing in common: they managed to break free from violence
“We are nomads. We were not in the camp when it was attacked by Boko Haram. I was out riding a camel with my father and saw people running away. He told me to start screaming if I saw any danger. The first night I slept on a tree. I was too scared.” Tahar Mohamed, 8, Chadian returnee from Niger.
“The gunshots woke me up. 18 people got killed and everybody was terrified. I could not walk as fast as my brothers, after some days, I was too tired and hungry to walk, especially with these slippers”. Fatime Hassan, 7. Chadian returnee from Niger.
“I didn’t have time to take my shoes. I had to walk all the way barefoot on the hot sand. After three days walking, we arrived in a village and sold what we had left in exchange of some cooked rice.” Ahmat Ali Makai, 12, Chadian returnee from Niger.
“They were all dressed in black and wore turbans. They destroyed everything. We ran. My feet were badly injured from walking in the bush barefoot with all those thorns. I had to go to the clinic so they could pull them out with pliers” Khadija Kaku, 15, Nigerian refugee in Chad.
“We could only see their eyes. They started killing people, 10 or 12 men, I can’t remember. We managed to hide around a swamp. The following day, a boat passed by, we jumped in and left. I lost my slippers on the way.” Hanatu Musa, 14 Nigerian refugee in Chad.
“There are many islands and swamps in the Lake and the boat was often getting stuck. I don’t know how many times we had to step out and push the boat back in the water. We were all barefoot, I was afraid of snakes.” Sule Ali, 14, Nigerian refugee in Chad.
“My family had a good life in Malam Fatori. Walking for so long and living all you have behind is painful. It is not ok for children or for adults to live like this. We haven’t done anything wrong.” Fatime Saleh, 10, Chadian returnee from Niger.
“It was a hard journey, hot during the day and cold during the night. I broke my slippers on the way. Until today, I could not get new ones.” Brahim Mahamat, 9, Chadian returnee from Niger.
“All the way here, I had to carry my little brother on my back because he could not walk as he had a foot infection. When we arrived in Chad, my mom sold some of her belongings to buy us new shoes”. Kaltouma Ali, 11, Nigerian refugee in Chad.
“These slippers hurt me all the time, they’re too thin. I’d love to have real lady’s shoes” Sarah Tu, 15 Nigerian refugee in Chad.
These are not fiction stories. A major humanitarian crisis is unfolding in Africa’s Lake Chad Basin, where the spiral of violence has left 1.4 million children trapped behind conflict lines.