The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has appealed to the Government of Cameroon to respect human rights of all citizens for the sake of peace. The commission’s representative in Nigeria and ECOWAS, Mr Antonio Canhandula, made the appeal while speaking with newsmen on Monday in Makurdi. Canhandula said the instability in Anglophone Cameroon had forced thousands of citizens to seek asylum in Nigeria. He said Cameroonian Government should explore alternative ways of engaging with those who feel aggrieved for the sake of peace and that both parties should respect human rights.
“UNHCR urges the Government of Cameroon to explore ways of engaging with those who feel aggrieved, for the sake of peace. “We also reiterate the need for respect of human rights by all parties involved,’’ Canhandula said. He said the refugees complained of exclusion from the national life by the Cameroonian Government, political processes and important positions in the government. “Longstanding grievances against the central government in Cameroon took a new turn in 2016 when a group of Anglophone Cameroonians triggered civil society-led demonstrations. “This was based on allegations of marginalisation by the authorities, particularly in the education and justice system. “Initially, the protesters called for the return to a federal system of government and greater autonomy. “However, on Oct. 1, 2017, the separatist movement, Ambazonia Governing Council, declared unilaterally the independence of Cameroon’s Northwest and Southwest Regions.
“Tensions ensued with government security forces clashing with movement, resulting in injuries and deaths and leading to an influx of English-speaking Cameroonians into Nigeria. “Critics accused government forces of killing dozens of civilians while the administration is also alleging that suspected separatists have killed more than 10 security personnel since the crisis intensified in October.’’
Canhandula further said that the UNHCR had registered 20,485 Cameroonian refugees seeking asylum in Benue, Cross River and Akwa Ibom states. He explained that the commission also opened a permanent office for the coordination of their activities in Calabar, Cross River, field offices in Adikpo, Benue and Ikom in Cross River. The UNHCR representative said that the Benue Government had allocated 191 hectares of land for the settlement of refugees in Kwande Local Government Area. He added that the site was being developed. According to him, each site has the capacity to host 4,000 persons. He, however, said that the influx is expected to continue and there is the need for more land in Benue. “We are still working with the state authorities in Cross River to identify a suitable location to move the refugees away from the border in line with international standards. “Issues of accessibility, security, topography, water resources, absorption capacity and good terrain for sanitation facilities are taken into consideration while selecting potential refugee sites.’’
Canhandula said the commission was yet to gain access to Akwaya, where some Nigerian refugees in Cameroon were located. “The Akwaya sub-division, in particular, hosts small refugee population of around 1,800 Nigerians and around 600 Cameroonian returnees, who had been refugees in Nigeria before being repatriated in 2015 and 2016. “This area is very difficult to access, particularly during the rainy season. “Nevertheless, our office in Cameroon is working to organise an assessment mission there. “But we cannot provide first-hand information at this moment,’’ he said.