In the latest issue of the Forced Migration Review, our Head of Crisis Response looks at language and communication from the perspective of an internally displaced person (IDP) in northeast Nigeria. "The situation is frustrating for aid workers but it can be humiliating and terrifying for the IDPs themselves. Now imagine you’re an internally displaced woman in one of the camps. Like many women in north-eastern Nigeria, you have no formal education and you can’t read.
You are a native speaker of Marghi, one of more than 30 languages and dialects spoken by IDPs across the area hardest hit by the conflict" ... "Other IDPs from your village are saying they might go home, even if it’s not safe. You don’t have enough reliable information about the situation back home to decide whether you should join them.
Your youngest child has a bad bout of diarrhoea. The oral rehydration salts you were given to treat him came with instructions in Hausa; you had to ask one of the young men in the camp to tell you what it said... You are afraid your children still aren’t getting enough to eat, and you’d like to ask if more help is available.
But the aid workers don’t speak Marghi and you can’t read the posters they put up. This is the real nightmare. You’re doing what you can but you’re unsure what help you’re entitled to, and even if you knew, you can’t access it directly. You’ve never heard of the Guiding Principles; in these circumstances, you certainly can’t claim the rights they enshrine." ... "In cases of forced displacement, we know language is going to be an issue and responding organisations have a responsibility to find out what language and other communication barriers IDPs face. As we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Guiding Principles, it is high time the humanitarian sector put the data, capacity, resources and technology in place to ensure that IDPs can claim their right to information they actually understand." This is why #LanguageMatters
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