As part of her effort to bring attention to voices that aren’t being heard, Emtithal Mahmoud, a Sudanese refugee, writer, and activist, is preparing to attend the Cop28 climate meeting in Dubai later this month. RFI spoke with her while on a trip to the Minawao refugee camp in northern Cameroon. The camp is home to individuals forced to flee their homes due to the effects of climate change.
After shaking hands with Emtithal “Emi” Mahmoud, the Nigerian refugee Liatou Habila, who is 26 years old and currently resides in Cameroon, displays a big smile.
Habila expressed her astonishment at the visit of the Sudanese-American poet and goodwill ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). “I am surprised that she came to see us,” Habila said.
According to Habila, who spoke to RFI, “she is so humble and so nice and everybody likes her,”
The two ladies initially connected at the Minawao refugee camp, which is located in the Far North area of Cameroon and was most recently visited by Mahmoud.
The activist, who had to flee Darfur when she was just a child and later grew up in the United States, was in the region to speak to those displaced before the Cop28 climate conference, which will begin on November 30. She claims that she will attend the Dubai meetings “to lift the voices of refugees.” Refugees have been excluded from conversations on climate change for a very long time, even though they are increasingly finding themselves in front of its effects.
“You see other refugee situations where climate disasters did lead to displacement, because 70 percent of refugees actually come from climate-vulnerable settings in different countries including Afghanistan, the DRC, Yemen, and Syria,” according to Mahmoud.
“But from my context specifically, I have experienced that kind of environmental loss at many different levels and many different climates, both in the States and in Sudan and many different areas.”
The Far North area of Cameroon is home to thousands of internally displaced persons, many of whom were forced to escape their homes elsewhere in Cameroon or neighboring Nigeria. Some people have run away to escape severe weather or conflicts over land and resources that climate change has made worse.
However, they cannot avoid the effects of climate change while housed at the Minawao refugee camp. Drought conditions and forest loss The temperature in the camp may go as high as 40 degrees Celsius on occasion, and it covers an area of around 623 hectares. This area, along with many other areas of the Sahel, the semiarid scrubland that borders the Sahara desert, has experienced frequent droughts in recent years.
The loss of trees in Minawao, on which the refugees and the local people depend for their firewood supply, has made this situation in the town a great deal worse.
The Centre for International Forestry Research estimates that around 80 percent of Cameroonians get all their home energy from wood. It is estimated that 2.2 million metric tons of firewood are used annually across the country. And because rural areas such as Minawao have limited access to domestic gas and electricity, the camp’s primary fuel source is wood from the camp’s fire pits.
The growing need for firewood is adding to the strain that is already being placed on the woods of Cameroon, which are in danger due to logging, farming, mining, and building activities.
Even as refugees such as Habila travel further out in search of firewood, they continue to face the possibility of sexual assault.
They are subjected to sexual abuse. “They are raped almost every day that they step out to look for wood,” said Luka Isaac, a spokeswoman for Nigerian refugees at Minawao. “They have no choice but to go out and look for wood.”
As a result, the migrants launched a drive to plant trees, not only to contribute to the provision of fuel but also to give shade from the sweltering heat of the Sahel.
More than 50,000 brand-new trees. “We started with just 500 trees,” Luka explains to RFI about the forest’s beginnings. “With the help of the Cameroon government, the UNHCR, and other aid agencies, we are now on more than 50,000 trees.”
While basking in the fresh air, Mahmoud relaxes in the cool shade of a neem tree.
“I think what’s so brilliant about the climate solutions here is that they weren’t just offered or led by refugees; they were created by refugees from the outset,” she said to RFI.
She claims that she performs her spoken-word poetry because she believes that regardless of whether “one person hears it and it makes a difference in their lives, if it shifts their perspective about a refugee or a vulnerable person, or if it makes them see us as more human, if it just makes one person listen a little bit better or see humanity a little bit more, that makes a huge difference for me.”
Her quest will lead her to COP28, where she will try to ensure that the voices of refugees, who have been disregarded for a long time, are heard.