The number of Anglophone Cameroonians seeking asylum in Nigeria has doubled since mid-January. Without urgent international support, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, warns that their struggle for survival will be increasingly desperate.
Anglophone Cameroonians began fleeing violence in October 2017 and continue to pour into Nigeria’s Cross River, Taraba, Benue and Akwa-Ibom states. In total, over 20,000 refugees have been registered in the area. Women and children account for four-fifths of the population.
A recent assessment by humanitarian groups shows how grim the situation has become. Ninety-five per cent of the asylum seekers have no more than three days of food. Most families are down to one meal per day. The coping strategies people are using are themselves risky, and range from borrowing money to cutting food portions or saving food only for children.
Most asylum seekers say they are having to drink water from streams, ponds and other unsafe sources, because of inadequate or dysfunctional drinking water facilities. Essential relief items, such as clothing, blankets and plastic sheeting, are available to fewer than 25 per cent of them.
Only five in every 100 Cameroonians have proper or independent shelter. The rest have little or no privacy, squatting in rooms hosting on average 10 to 15 people. Protection from the cold is lacking, increasing health concerns due to the imminent start of the rainy season.
Malaria is reportedly already on the increase. Children commonly exhibit rapid breathing and coughing. Many participants at the assessment were suffering from fear and anxiety, poor sleep and flashbacks. In all, about 20 to 30 per cent of the asylum seekers have some kind of vulnerability, such as a physical disability.
Three quarters of the Cameroonian children who recently fled to Nigeria currently cannot access school, because their families cannot afford to pay for books and uniforms. Adults are also becoming more frustrated as they struggle to make ends meet.
A political solution to the situation in Cameroon is urgently needed, so that the Cameroonians can safely and voluntarily return home. Until then, UNHCR and its partners will continue their efforts to provide assistance and support to this population as long as we are able.
Our office has worked on a contingency plan of US$18 million to help cover their needs. However, so far no funds have been received, leading to immense challenges and gaps in the response.
Earlier this month, the authorities in Nigeria allocated land to UNHCR which should allow for shelters to be established to ensure the safety, security and self-reliance of refugees. UNHCR acknowledges the authorities’ commitment to assist in moving the refugees at least 50 kilometres away from the border, in line with humanitarian principles.
We also remain concerned about reports of further arrests of Cameroonian nationals in Nigeria, including at least one asylum seeker at the beginning of March. UNHCR urges the Nigerian authorities to refrain from the forcible return of individuals who may have fled persecution in their country of origin, and to respect the principle of non-refoulement or no forced returns.