The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has called on the international community to urgently support over 70,000 Cameroonian refugees in Nigeria.
The UN agency said that nearly 80 per cent of these people are women and children.
“This is not just a number, these are people behind these numbers, mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters, people just like you and I, that have been forced to flee their homes to seek safety and save their lives,” says UNHCR’s Country Representative Chansa Kapaya. “70,000 refugees are 70,000 daughters and sons.”
Their dreams and plans were disrupted by violence in the North-West and South-West regions of Cameroon where a conflict between secessionist Non-State Armed Groups and the army has been displacing people from their homes since 2017. Recent arrivals and UNHCR’s protection monitoring confirm killings, abductions, forced evictions and other forms of violence, with armed groups attacking schools and hospitals.
Over 8,000 Cameroonian women, men and children have arrived in Nigeria’s Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Benue, Enugu, Cross River and Taraba States in the past 12 months, many in hard- to -reach rural areas. UNHCR, together with the National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and IDPs, registered them. 59 percent found refuge in local communities. The rest live in four settlements which UNHCR helped build on land generously provided by the government.
Nigeria has a progressive open-door approach to refugees, allowing refugee girls and boys to go to school just like nationals and their parents to work where they can. With support from UNHCR, Nigeria provides primary health care to refugees and nationals alike. “UNHCR commends Nigeria because it is on its way to become a champion in implementing the Global Compact on Refugees,” says UNHCR’s Representative Chansa Kapaya, “but Nigeria needs support”. The most pressing needs of Cameroonian refugees are food, shelter, improved health care and education as well as livelihood opportunities.
With rising food prices, the economic hit of COVID-19 and the refugee influx, needs are on the rise with serious risks of gender-based violence and negative copying mechanisms such as begging and survival sex. The amount of support UNHCR can deliver is increasingly falling short. Cash for food, for instance, had to be reduced from 2019 due to insufficient funding.
US$97.7 million is needed to respond to the needs of a total of some 78,000 refugees and asylum-seekers of different nationalities and to IDP needs – protection, camp management/coordination, shelter and non-food items such as blankets and jerry cans.
So far, not even half of this amount (45 per cent, as of 23 November) has been received. UNHCR calls on donors and development agencies not to forget Cameroonian refugees in Nigeria.