Identity Crisis in the Lake Chad Basin

With no home, family or jobs refugees in the Sayam Refugee and Displaced People’s Camp in the Lake Chad Basin struggle with their sense of identity. World Vision spoke to three refugees to hear what the crisis has taken from them and how they are trying to cope.


60-year-old Fada no longer knows where home is. She fled her village in Nigeria a year ago. “People came and attacked the village twice. The third time, I decided it was time to leave. I left by canoe, across Lake Chad to Niger.” She was later transferred to Sayam Refugee and Displaced People’s Camp. The camp is now home to nearly 8,000 people.

When asked about the home she’s left behind, she stares, pauses, then answers with a question: “Which home?”

Fada, like many other refugees, is struggling to maintain her identity. She had already lost six of her seven children before conflict and drought arrived in her village. When the crisis reached peak levels and Fada decided it was time to flee, her husband refused to leave home. She has not heard from him since.

Without a home or family, Fada finds it difficult to know who she is. “I have seen and experienced a lot. I think it is difficult to have peace,” Fada says sadly.


For Mohammad Sanyi, the crisis in the region has left him feeling as if he’s lost his purpose.

“There are many problems for us as youth,” he starts. “Most of us are educated, but we do not have anything to do here. Some of us are without a business, and are single so we have all this time on our hands. When it gets to midnight we are wide awake. We cannot sleep.”

Prior to becoming a refugee, Mohammad Sanyi owned his own business and felt like he had a place to belong.

“I had a business. I traded in fish. I used to go to the lake [Lake Chad] to buy fish and I would bring it back to Nigeria to sell. I had money and I led a good life. The boys raided our village one day and destroyed everything, including my business, and took all my money. I lost it all.”

Compounding Mohammad Sanyi’s sense of loss is the separation from his family.

“Now I am here as a refugee; my parents don’t know where I am and I do not know where they are.” he says.


13-year-old Mohammed has turned to art to process what is happening in the daily life of Sayam Refugee and Displaced People’s Camp.

He attends school in the camp where his old head teacher spotted his artistic talent.

His drawings now grace the entrance to our Child Friendly Space at the camp, and illustrates life in the camp.

“This is a house where we come to learn and play,” he explains, pointing to a section of his drawing depicting the Child Friendly Space¬. “Next you see an old man who comes to inspect the house.”

Also featured in the mural are the truck that brings water to the camp and a young boy who comes to draw some water. At different stages of the picture he shows people who come to take photographs.

“He is a pupil who loves to learn and wants to answer questions. He is exemplary to his fellow pupils,” comments Mohaman, Mohammed’s headmaster.

The continued conflict in the Lake Chad Basin has left more than 9.2 million people –spread across Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria – in need of humanitarian assistance.

To find out more about World Vision’s emergency work, click here.