The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR says Cameroon continues to be one of the world’s most neglected displacement crises, with refugee needs increasing far more quickly than our available resources. The central African country is home to about 500,000 refugees, most of them having fled the troubled Central African Republic and Boko Haram terrorism in Nigeria.
Raouf Mazou, the UNHCR’s assistant high commissioner for operations, says that this week he met with humanitarian agencies and Cameroonian government officials, including Prime Minister Joseph Dion Ngute, to look for ways to reinforce humanitarian actions to help displaced persons and refugees.
In August, countries surrounding Lake Chad reported an increase in the number of people displaced in Chad, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Nigeria, and Niger.
Cameroon said at least 1,500 former Boko Haram militants have arrived on its northern border with Nigeria since May, when the Islamist group’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, was declared killed.
Cameroon also reported that more than 40 villages were razed and 10,000 citizens fled northern Cameroon to Chad after a violent conflict between herders and fishers in August.
Mazou visited Cameroon’s Far North region on the border with Nigeria and Chad, where he met with representatives of some 4,000 displaced people in the northern border village of Zamai. Mazou said they desperately need civil registration documents so they can integrate into their new communities.
“If there is one thing that is essential, it is the issue of civil registration. They kept on repeating the same thing, they kept on saying our children are here, they cannot go to school. When we asked, ‘Why can’t they go to school?’ one of the key reasons why [is that] we [displaced persons] don’t have documents for them [displaced children]. Of course, there is also the issue of the cost. Even if primary education is free, people do have to pay an amount of money, but the issue of documentation for them is absolutely crucial,” Mazou said.
Speaking to local media, including Cameroon state broadcaster CRTV, Mazou said there are more than a million displaced Cameroonians in the country.
The UNHCR says Cameroon, with a population of 26 million, is also home to about 500,000 refugees and asylum-seekers.
Among the refugees, 120,000 are Nigerian citizens fleeing Boko Haram terrorism, and 321,000 are fleeing violence caused by the political tensions in the Central African Republic. Cameroon says other refugees are from Chad, Senegal, Mali and Niger.
Xavier Bourgois, the UNHCR’s spokesperson in Cameroon, says the agency has limited means to help people seeking refuge.
He said the UNHCR has only 44% of the $100 million it needs to provide emergency humanitarian services for refugees and displaced Cameroonians and to assist host communities that share their already stretched resources with displaced people.
In February, Cameroon said 5,000 of the 120,000 Nigerians, mostly women and children, who fled across the border fleeing from Boko Haram terrorists have agreed to voluntarily return to Nigeria. The UNHCR says about 4,500 Nigerians have returned. Those remaining are still worried about their security should they return to Nigeria.
Several thousand Central African Republic refugees have also returned to their home country. Cameroon says a majority are still scared of insecurity and violence after the December general elections there.