Chapter III: The border


It’s not only Western borders that kill. It happens in Africa too. It's not heard about so often – it's not in the news – but the suffering that people endure is the same.

That’s the case on the border between Central African Republic and Chad.

We’re in the shade of an enormous mango tree. Françoise Kakopande is chatting while waiting to see a doctor at MSF’s small and crowded health centre in Moyenne-Sido, a Central African village near the border with Chad.

Françoise says: “I’m from Dékoa [250 km to the south]. There was fighting between the anti-Balaka militias and the Séléka coalition in 2014. They started to kill people and we all fled to the forest. The anti-Balaka militias pursued us there. We managed to join  a convoy that took us directly to Chad, but there was no food or supplies from humanitarian aid organisations there and we were sleeping under trees, so we decided to come back.”

Françoise Kakopande waits for her consultation at MSF’s health centre in Moyenne-Sido. | Anna Surinyach

Françoise returned to Central African Republic with her nine children. She did it illegally, avoiding the Chadian military, because the border is closed. Why wasn’t she able to return to her own country by crossing the border legally? There are several thousand people staying in the three camps around MSF’s health centre in Moyenne-Sido, but nobody knows what to call them. They’re not refugees. Are they returnees? Displaced people? The debate over words matters, because the assistance they receive depends on what they’re called. This will become clearer as you read on.

The border is the problem. Refugees from one of the poorest countries in the world have to pay to return to their own country. The border is the problem.

MSF’s health centre in Moyenne-Sido  is one of the few places near the Chadian border where medical care is available. | Anna Surinyach

Hawa Usmani lives in one of the camps near MSF’s health centre. In the camp, no services are provided and no assistance is available. Two of Hawa’s children were born in Chad and one was born in Central African Republic: her life has been a story of exodus. Like Françoise and so many others in this camp, she fled the conflict in 2014. Before that, she lived in Yaluki, 200 km from the capital, Bangui. At that time, Muslims were fleeing north to escape violence by Christian anti-Balaka militias, and the Séléka coalition organised and escorted civilian convoys towards the border with Chad. Like Françoise, Hawa decided to return to her country because conditions in the camp in Chad were so bad. It wasn’t easy. “We paid 7,500 francs [11 euros] to traffickers so we could cross, and we had to give all of our belongings to the Chadian military,” says Hawa.

Paying to return home.

Hawa Usmani and her children live in a camp for displaced people on the border with Chad. | Anna Surinyach

Amamatou Hassan is another of those who fled to Chad to escape the war, then returned to Central African Republic. She is not a refugee because she is in her own country. She’s not displaced, because she has come from another country. The word “returnee” is used, and Amamatou explains what this means in practical terms: “We’re not on the food distribution lists because we’re returnees.”

Returnees have no rights to receive humanitarian aid.

A problem caused by borders; a problem caused by this border, which is so hard to find on a map.