Chapter IV: Nomads


Nomads move from place to place out of choice; refugees are obliged to flee. But what happens when nomads – like the Peul people from Central African Republic – find themselves forced to become refugees?

They’re stopped in their tracks.

Zara Abu Bakr, wearing a dark blue scarf, smiles as she walks through Moyenne-Sido on her way to MSF’s health centre. A nomad, she has been living in a camp for displaced people in the north of Central African Republic since 2014.

“They attacked us in Bangui and we all went inside a mosque that was protected by the UN mission,” says Zara.

They stayed there for four days until Zara, her husband and their three children managed to join a convoy on its way north, as a large part of the Muslim population did too.

“Along the road, the anti-Balaka militias launched a grenade at us and killed four people,” says Zara. “There were also Peul people – nomadic people too – who weren’t fleeing in convoys but were doing it alone because they were trying to escape with their livestock. But they killed them on the road.”

Zara and her family stayed with the convoy until they reached the border with Chad. Since then, they have not moved.

“Yes, we’re nomads and we move around with our livestock and our cattle, but now we have nothing. Our livestock fled with the war. Before this, we used to move around with the herd to wherever there was food for them. Now it no longer makes sense for us to move.”

Abdulá Yamsa, a nomad and leader of one of the camps for displaced people, pats the wall of his house in a camp for displaced people. | Anna Surinyach

These words are echoed by Fadimatou Bouba, aged 48. Sitting on a log in the camp known as ‘peace camp’, surrounded by friends, she says that her family are nomads who fled to Chad in 2014 before settling here. Her husband died before the war began and she has eight children.

“We have free housing here, but there’s no food,” says Fadimatou. “We’re going to the forest to gather firewood.”

Who is?

“Everyone!” shout the women.

“Young and old women alike,” says Fadimatou. “I’m not moving from here because I’ve no means to do so. Before, we used to live really well with our livestock; now, we don’t know what to do. There’s a huge difference between our lives before and our lives now. We’re nomads, but we’re stuck here. We’re not used to this.”

Fadimatou Bouba and her children are nomads, but have settled in a precarious camp for displaced people. | Anna Surinyach

The passing of time doesn't matter: they still don’t feel safe enough to return home because the hostilities continue, even though there’s no open war.

The passing of time doesn't matter: they're still forgotten.

Has anyone come to help? Nobody has come here. “This is the first time I’ve been asked how I am,” says Fadimatou.