WHAT WE SHARE
What would do if you were a refugee?
Where would you go if you had to flee violence and war?
What if you had to knock on a stranger’s door for help, not knowing if they would answer?
These questions are an everyday reality for the 2.3 million people who have been displaced by conflict and insecurity in the Lake Chad region in Africa. While some refugees have found shelter in camps, many stay with host families who have opened their doors to them.
In partnership with United Nations’ OCHA, photographer Vincent Tremeau travelled to Niger to find out how refugees from Nigeria and host communities in Niger help each other to survive and thrive in one of the world’s worst humanitarian emergencies.
Through these photos, we enter the homes of three host families to learn about their relationships and what they share with the refugees living with them. Focusing on their daily lives and the objects they share, the series helps us to understand the difficult circumstances faced by refugees and host communities in humanitarian crises. It also gives us a glimpse into the extraordinary solidarity that motivates people to help others, even when they themselves have very little
Scroll down to read the amazing stories of Fadji, Issaw and Elhadj, three citizens of Niger who have opened their hearts and homes, hosting neighbors from Nigeria who have been displaced by conflict.
Fadji hosts two displaced families at her home.
“When people started arriving here, it was terrible. Their clothes were torn, they had nothing. Residents here got together and helped them. We gave them clothes, mats and food.
“Hosting two refugee families in my home has not created any tensions. If we had been in trouble, they would have done the same for us. If I had more money, I would start a small business and help them more. I would like to build them a decent house.”
Aishatu (seated, in purple) took refuge in Fadji's house with her six children after fleeing Nigeria Boko Haram attacks.
Two of her daughters, Fatoumata and Habiba, prepare dinner for their family in front of their temporary shelter in Fadji’s courtyard, where they have been living for the past two years.
While the three families have separate cooking ingredients, they come together for dinner every evening, sharing the dishes they have prepared.
Binta Yacoubou and her two children also live together with Fadji.
There are only two toothbrushes in the home. Some family members share them, but most clean their teeth the traditional way: with wooden sticks.
Issaw hosts 4 refugees.
“I started hosting displaced people and refugees in November 2014. My friend and I took the car and went to the border to pick up people who were fleeing the violence. As soon as we came home, we went back to pick up others. Welcoming them has been a financial strain, but I did it as part of my Muslim faith. Also, I thought that if Boko Haram were to attack our city, I myself would have to flee and stay with another family.”
Djibril, Souleymane and Ali Mahamadou, three orphaned children, currently live with Issaw’s family.
“We share everything with them: food, mats and showers. It worries me that none of these children have parents, and I wonder what would become of them if I was not here. This question weighs on me, I think about it often.”
Schools teach students from the local host communities, as well as Nigerian refugees. Classes are taught in French, Niger’s national language, meaning that refugee children from Nigeria, whose national language is English, must also learn a new language.
Babayo also lives with Issaw, and sleeps under a mosquito net in Issaw’s hallway.
“After Boko Haram attacked my town, I ended up here without my family. I have not received any news from my wife or my son for the past 16 months. There is not much for me to do here. Sometimes I ask Issaw to lend me his mobile phone so that I can try to reach my family. I have called so many times, but no one ever picks up.”
Small shop owner Elhadj hosts eight refugees, including six children.
"Everyone looked for friends and family to stay with when they fled. This is how Zeinabou came to stay here. Other than us, she has no one. We share everything. We eat together, sleep together, wake up together. If there is work to do, we do it together. If she needs something, we give it to her. This is the way it is: you share, even if you have nothing.”
Zeinabou and Souweiba, both refugees, talk with Elhadj’s wife in the family’s living room.
Elhadj’s family sells packets of water for 50 CFA (US$0.08) and juice for 25 CFA (US$0.04). They use the money to pay the electricity bill at the end of each month.
Kaoura (right) sits with Elhadj’s son in the courtyard. Separated from his parents, 13-year-old Kaoura has been living with Elhadj for a year.
“We were locked down in a house and Boko Haram made us work for them. We were imprisoned for two months. Sometimes, they came to the house and beat us up. One day, the Nigerian Army attacked and I managed to escape. The Army picked me up on the road and took me here.”
Millions of people had to flee their homes because of the violence. They often walk several hundred kilometres in search of safety.
Issaw shares every day tea with refugees he hosts like Babayo.
The project was exhibited during Photoville festival in New York (September 2017), at the United Nations headquarters (September 2017), Tokyo during the IP3 photo festival (June 2017), and in Geneva (2018).