Chapter VI: Shelter


Contrary to what you might think, most people forced from their homes by the war don’t live in camps. Most live in other people’s homes. Sometimes, they are the homes of strangers. But more often, they are the homes of friends and family members, whether close or distant relatives. When everything is broken, friends and relatives are the first safety net.

This was what happened to 70-year-old Abdulay Brema. He fled attacks by Christian anti-Balaka militias for the north of the country, along with his wife, seven children and two nephews. Some of his family had taken refuge in Chad, but not wanting to become a refugee, he stayed in the border town of Kabo.

“We were able to stay here, in a distant nephew’s home,” says Abdulay. “All of the children sleep in one hut and the adults sleep in the other.”

The old man points to two brick buildings with thatched roofs belonging to his nephew, who has five children of his own. The pressure on both families is tremendous.

Abdulay fled the war and was welcomed by a distant nephew who lived in Kabo. | Anna Surinyach

“They are the ones who give us food to eat, for me and all the children,” says Abdulay. “It’s impossible for me to earn a living because I’m so old.”

Sitting in the sandy yard, surrounded by his daughters, sons and nephews, Abdulay feels lucky. He smiles. He knows that many families are barely surviving in camps.

“I’ve never been displaced before,” says Abdulay. “I’ve never been in a camp. More than two years have already passed and we’re still here. If peace comes, I’ll go back home, but at the moment there are no guarantees. There are no Muslims left in my village after the latest clashes.” That means that it’s still not a safe place.

Abdulay has family members across the border in Chad, here in Kabo, and hundreds of kilometres away in other towns in Central African Republic. They are dispersed. Lost. Displaced. He owes everything to his nephew’s family, who have seen the size of their household increase threefold but have not minded. His nephew’s wife,  Alime Jibrim, smiles as she hears Abdulay thanking his hosts for their kindness.

Alime Jibrim and her husband opened the doors of their home to Abdulay, a distant uncle. | Anna Surinyach

There’s an open bag of peanuts in the middle of the yard and a mattress with a leopardskin cover. They tell us that it’s reserved as a place for the homeowner to relax, although the children’s constant commotion must interrupt his rest. There’s very little space, and there are few things to share around. It’s a common scene in Central African Republic: those who have least, give the most.