Monday, January 17, 2011

Peace Corps Suspends Operations in Niger

U.S. Embassy Niamey put out this warden message today:

This warden message is to inform U.S. citizens that as a result of safety and security concerns, Peace Corps has decided to temporarily suspend their operations in Niger. U.S. Embassy operations in Niamey have not changed.

The local security environment has been tense for some time, especially outside the capital of Niamey. Previous warden messages noted that the embassy prohibits travel outside Niamey for Americans on official business, and that there is a kidnapping threat.

Peace Corps Volunteers are very fast on the keyboard. Although the Niger volunteers were evacuated to Rabat only last night, at least three have already blogged about the experience.

Peace Corps Niger has been suspended indefinitely due to security concerns. I had been at my amazing village for a nine days before I had to leave. All volunteers have been safely evacuated to Morocco for a transition conference where we will look at all our options. (Niger Rider)

This morning, at 5:30 a.m., I boarded a plane to Morocco and say goodbye to Niger, potentially for forever.

On Wednesday, Peace Corps Washington decided that terrorist activity, mainly Al Queada, in Niger has grown to dangerous levels and Americans are no longer safe. A suspension was issued for Peace Corps Niger and all volunteers were evacuated. All 97 Niger PCVS are now in Morocco for what is called a transition conference. We will spend the next few days discussing our options and officially ending our Niger service.

The last few days have been incredibly hard for all of us. I was at the PC training site for in-service training when the news was delivered and was flown to Zinder the next day so I could go to Dantchiao, pack my things and say goodbye. I had a total of one hour to leave behind the life that has given me so much and shaped me into a better person. I was allowed two nights in Zinder to continue organizing and bidding farewell. On Saturday, Team Zinder departed its home and we spent the night in Mardi and both teams continued on to Niamey for more briefing and the final night in Niger ... Words cannot describe how sucky this [is] ... My service has ended before it really began. (This Anasara Life)

I had only been there 48 hours (on Saturday) when I received the text message: two Frenchmen had been kidnapped in Niamey at a bar the night before. I sat in my concession for awhile thinking "this is not good." A little over a year ago, Peace Corps had given an optional Interrupted Service to volunteers and had removed an entire training class after an attempted kidnapping; this was much worse - they had been taken, there was no ransom, and they were killed during a rescue mission.

Still, I knew my villagers would do anything they could to protect me, and I still felt completely safe in my rural town. Then, Saturday afternoon, I had a terrifying experience that somewhat changed my perspective on things. I heard a motorcycle stop outside my concession, and soon after one of my host moms yelled that someone wanted to see me - I came outside to see a man in all camouflage holding a ginormous gun. Needless to say, I started mumbling words of terror in English and ran into my mom's house. Eventually, I figured out he was a policeman sent from a nearby village to come check on me after the night's events, but the whole encounter made salient to me how if something were to happen, I really wouldn't have many options.

-- snip --

Then, on Wednesday, my first day of work at the health hut, I got the call. It was a 6 minute 30 second conversation at 10:13 am, I hadn't even been there for two hours. "This is going to be really hard for me to say, so I'm just going to read it to you" ... I woke up my parents, at what was 1:30 am their time, tears streaming down my face, "They're pulling us out. I have to pack all of my things. Peace Corps is evacuating Niger." (Back in Africa)

Evacuation was probably the right call. Still, it's hard not to feel sympathy for the PCVs, who were a new group that had only just begun their two-year tour in Niger.


Anonymous said...

My heart goes out to those recently sworn in and posted PCVs who had to leave so quickly, I hope Niger will be safe enough for you to head back soon.

TSB said...

I hope so, too. At the least, they should be given the opportunity to serve somewhere else in the region.

It is affecting to read their posts, isn't it?