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Missionaries Losing Touch with Catholic Communities as Insecurity Rises in Niger

Map showing the Sahel region. Credit: Public Domain

For over a decade, missionaries in Niger have been unable to reach various members of Catholic communities in the West African country owing to insecurity.

In a Wednesday, October 5 report by the information service of Propaganda Fide, Agenzia Fides, Fr. Rafael Casamayor, a member of the Society of African Missions (SMA), says that missionaries have, for long, been unable to reach many places within the country to provide pastoral care to the communities of Catholics.

“We Western missionaries cannot leave the countries in which we live without being accompanied by an escort of armed police in their cars, without any discretion,” Fr. Rafael who serves at the Catholic mission of Dosso located south-east of Niger's capital Niamey says.

According to the Agenzia Fides report, Catholic communities in Niger are “scattered” and their pastoral caregivers are unable to reach them.

“The missionaries cannot enter the city, visit the scattered Christian communities, which began their journey a few years ago and of which nothing is known, if they continue to meet, if they pray, if they are still alive,” Agenzia Fides has reported.

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The information service of Propaganda Fides notes that for over ten years, the population of the Sahel, which includes Niger, has been living in an extremely delicate situation due to the presence of radical movements close to Al Qaeda.

The terrorist movements, Agenzia Fides reports, have created “great insecurity and fear throughout the area.”

“There are currently several hundred thousand displaced people in Niger who have had to leave their homes, fields and villages to take refuge in the slums of various cities. Fear and distrust have appeared in society and there is great uncertainty among the small Christian communities in this Muslim country,” the information agency reports.

In the October 5 report, Fr. Rafael recounts a conversation he had with a Catechist on the situation of Christians in the West African nation. 

He said, “One day the catechist told me, ‘Father, you can't come to our towns today. The situation has become very complicated. Every day we see young people on huge motorcycles coming and going from Nigeria, jihadists, loads of drugs and who knows what else.”

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Conflict perpetuated by Boko Haram and affiliated groups in Niger has reportedly displaced more than 350 households translating to 2,520 people hailing from several villages, including more than 1,150 children between the ages of 0–17 years.

The United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) has reported that as of August 2022, the numbers of internally displaced persons (IDP) in Niger are staggering, with a 347,648 IDP population countrywide.

The UN Commission has further reported that as of August 2022, the number of asylum seekers in Niger was 294,467. 

At 203,565, most of these people are crossing over from Nigeria, which is also ravished by Islamist militants. Others are coming from Mali and other unspecified regions.

Agnes Aineah is a Kenyan journalist with a background in digital and newspaper reporting. She holds a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism from the Aga Khan University, Graduate School of Media and Communications and a Bachelor's Degree in Linguistics, Media and Communications from Kenya's Moi University. Agnes currently serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.