With World Humanitarian Day approaching on August 19, my young colleague Hugo talks about his commitment to humanitarian work and to the refugees, and how some decisions changed his life. Hugo has recently been deployed with UNHCR to Burkina Faso to help the Malian refugees.
“My name is Hugo Reichenberger, I am 30 years-old and I come from a small Brazilian city called Araras. I have been a humanitarian aid worker since 2008 when I left my comfortable job in the private sector in São Paulo to become an intern at the small office of the UNHCR in the capital Brasília. I was then working in Protection. This was one of the best decisions I have ever taken in my life. It has been a challenging yet fulfilling path. As humanitarians, we daily learn how to be more open to new cultures and accept the differences through the refugees we serve, which made my job an incredible humble and rewarding experience.
I am currently working for UNHCR in Burkina Faso, which is hosting thousands of Malian refugees who fled their country in the past months because of a violent conflict. I have started this new job mid-July, as information officer, and I have had to “hit the ground running” as we had the visit in July of UNHCR High Commissioner Antonio Guterres. Our teams are also presently involved with the enormous task of registering each and every refugee in the camps in northern Burkina Faso. This is a more indepth registration than the one that took place when refugees were arriving in masse earlier this year. You can see some of my pictures on the registration and on Malian refugees at twitter: @hugo_do_brasil ; instagram: hugogui
My role is to shed some light on the Malian crisis. This is a silent emergency. Nobody really cares about it. The media hardly talks about it, and it has been hard for UNHCR to attract the attention of and funds from donors to help the refugees. I write stories on the UNHCR operation in Burkina Faso, on the Malian refugees, I also take pictures. A little bit like a journalist, but inside UNHCR. I hope I can make a difference telling the stories of the refugees, trying to be their voice.
I love being in the camps. The Malian refugees are incredibly welcoming with a very interesting and complex culture, especially the Tuaregs. I am learning about them every day. I have also been surprised by their passion for Brazilian soccer. They can name more Brazilian players than I ever could! I love being with the kids, I try to give them as much attention as I can. It is hard for them to be in a refugee camp, after fleeing their homes in Mali.
For me the work in the field is where the real challenges for humanitarians are, and where we should all aspire to be. It is so learning to be in the field and I feel that, at my own level, I can make a little difference in the refugees’ lives.”
It has been a while since I posted photos and text on this blog. The last time I did, I was still in Baghdad. I finally left the rocketted city in December and I am now based in Dakar, Senegal – a much more peaceful place than Iraq. At least I thought so until demonstrations and riots started weeks ago following the decision of President Wade to run, at 85, for a third presidential mandate!
I have just spent two weeks on mission in Niger, where thousands of people have found refuge from Mali in the past weeks… Confrontations between the Tuareg rebel movement MNLA (Mouvement National de Liberation de l’Azawad) and Malian governmental forces started mid-January in the northern Azawad region and led thousands of Malian refugees and returning Niger nationals to fled Mali to Niger. At the end of February, an estimated 75,000 people had left Mali to find refuge in Niger, Mauritania and Burkina Faso. Over 80,000 Malians were internally displaced in their country.
The MNLA was created late 2011 by Tuareg mercenaries originally from Mali who had served for years in the Khadafi army in Libya. After the end of the Libyan civil war in 2011, those men returned to Mali heavily armed and reactivated the Tuareg rebellion claiming independence for the Azawad region. Refugees also spoke of bandit groups roving the Azawad region and stealing villagers’ possessions and cattle.
While in Niger, I drove from the capital Niamey to the Niger-Mali border almost every day. Several hour-drive on partly tarmac, partly bumpy sandy and dirt roads. Here are some of the pictures and interviews I collected.