How has it been since the refugee camps started?
By October 2017 when this crisis between the Southern Cameroon people and the government of Cameroon started, they got to Nigeria and by our being part of the signatory to the African Union (AU) and European Union (EU) Convention on Refugees, we are not supposed to send any refugees back because of the non-referral policy. So, since that time, we have accommodated them.
We went to the host communities to interface with them; we spoke to the people that the refugees were vulnerable and that they came here out of need. We asked that they should be allowed to be there. SEMA, at the instance of the government of Cross River State, led by Senator Ben Ayade, provided settlements and camps for the refugees. And since then, they have been here.
In mass care of this nature, which we call camp coordination and camp management, we have nine sectors, but they have been fused into about six. These bother on WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) protection; health and education, which fundamentally are their rights, and issues of sustainable livelihood for the refugees.
Initially, when they started, they were given food and non-food items directly. At some point, however, it became necessary to convert the supplies to money. So, as we speak, each Cameroonian or each refugee earns about N7, 200 based on the standard in the food basket. So, if you are five in number, it means you are earning N7, 200 times five in each household (amounting to N36, 000). When you contrast this with what obtains in Nigeria where N18, 000 is what an average household of five takes as minimum wage, you should know the worth of our effort.
The government of Cross River State, by extension the Nigerian government, has taken the Cameroonians and given them refuge. In different ways, they have been united with the host communities. Presently, the refugees are paying almost nothing to have their wards in school up to secondary school, courtesy of the Cross River State government. A primary school pupil pays a stipend of about N1, 000, while a secondary school student pays about N2, 000 because of their vulnerable situation.
The state has also given them settlement areas. There are five of such with two already working – that is Adagom and Okende. There are about 11, 000 inhabitants in Adagom and 4, 000 in Okende, making a total of about 15, 000 refugees that are in the settlements. Given that the settlements were made for less than the population we currently have, the state government, through the Director General, SEMA, have been able to secure a place in Adagom that is a bigger than the current settlement. This is in addition to new ones in Uyia and Oban that would also accommodate refugees.
Regarding the health situation in camp, the refugees have been integrated to state health facilities. Apart from that money paid to them, the health facility and education is free. They also have the right to interface with the communities in terms of livelihood. So, they can go to work and earn a living as Nigerians. There is a policy that ensures that the refugees will not be cheated or undermined. We have a mechanism that takes care of all the fundamental human right of settlers.
How many houses do you have?
We have up to 41 communities and each community has not less than 18 households or houses. In Okende, we have about 15 settlements (houses). We have about 15, 000 refugees here.
And how many refugees do you have in the state?
We have about 45, 000 in the country and Cross River state has more than 60 per cent of those refugees, about 28, 000 or more. Those are the ones that are biometrically registered. But those in the host communities who have not been registered are more. So, as we manage them here, we still go to the host communities where they are. They are in about eight or nine local government areas of Cross River State. They are in Boki, Obanliku, Etung, Akampka, Calabar South and Calabar Municipality, Ogoja and Odukpani.
Do you think their population could overwhelm the state and the Nigeria government in terms of resources?
Human wants are insatiable and in any economy, you have limited resources. The resources have been over-stretched, no doubt. But we have accommodation and we have a way of containing the people even though facilities are over-stretched.
Issues of poor health facilities, poor education standard and discrimination against the refugees have been raised. What is your take on this?
I wouldn’t agree with that. We signed the referral policy of being part of the AU and UN convention that allows for refugees to be part of us. We did that with the knowledge of the entirety of what it contains in terms of their rights and whatever is enshrined in the convention.
For instance, the schools in the host community are the same schools children of the Cameroonians attend. It is the same situation with health. A human being is a human being irrespective of where you come from. So, when you go to a doctor, he will not ask you whether you are a refugee or not. All the doctor knows is that somebody is sick and needs to be attended to.
It is said that since the camp started, over 80 persons have died because of alleged poor health issues and nutrition?
That is not exactly correct. However, they do have the attitude of not going to the hospital or health facility because of their belief in herbs. Some of them only surrender to the medics when their health situation has got to the critical stage. But we are doing a lot of sensitisations in conjunction with SEMA.
Prostitution is alleged to be very high in the camp due to lack of jobs?
Prostitution is not as a result of vulnerability. It is your act or your person. If you want to be promiscuous, you will be promiscuous. There are people in the settlements that are not promiscuous. We have some of them here who are heading organisations in three countries. There are two of them, for instance, that are here; they got jobs and are working and interacting in Ghana and Sierra Leone.
So, if you have come and you want to work, you will work. If you go through Ogoja, most of them are working in different areas. If you don’t have the attitude to work and you want everything to come to you, it is alright. But on the whole, in this intervention, one of the sectors is livelihood and professionals are the ones handling it. The ones willing, who are serious, are getting jobs. As we speak, we are trying to de-emphasis the issue of giving fish to them but to teach them how to fish, which is what they call durable and sustainable solution.
What are the major challenges that you face taking care of the refugees?
Resources are scarce generally. We need more resources, and more hands on deck. Multinational agencies and others should come to our aid and collaborate with UNCHR, the government of Cross River State and by extension, Nigeria. Again, when people come from another area with cultural differences, there would always be issues of variations. But we are trying to manage them to see how we can co-exist.
Culled from The Guardian