More and more Anglophone Cameroonians are fleeing a violent crackdown in their country and seeking asylum in Nigeria, the Office of the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), said on Wednesday.
The UN refugee agency also expressed concerns over reports of further Cameroonian nationals’ arrests in Nigeria.
“UNHCR urges the Nigerian authorities to refrain from the forcible return of individuals who may have fled persecution in their country of origin.
“We also want respect to the principle of no forced returns,” Aikaterini Kitidi, spokesperson for the UNHCR, said at the regular briefing in Geneva.
The UN refugee agency warned that without more funding and assistance, the fleeing Cameroonians’ situation and that of the Nigerian communities hosting them, would become even more desperate.
According to Ms. Kitidi, 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.”
She added that a recent assessment by humanitarian groups showed how grim the situation had become – with 95 per cent of the asylum seekers having only three days of food.
Most families are down to one meal per day and their coping strategies are in themselves, risky, ranging from borrowing money to cutting food portions or saving food only for children, she said.
According to her, most 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,” Ms Kitidi explained.
She disclosed that only five in every 100 Cameroonians had proper or independent shelter while the rest had little or no privacy, squatting in rooms with sometimes, 10 to 15 people.
The UN refugee agency decried that the lack of protection from the cold was increasing health concerns as the start of the rainy season approaches.
Additionally, malaria is reportedly increasing, UNHCR said, noting that many participants at the assessment were suffering from fear and anxiety, poor sleep and flashbacks.
According to the UNHCR spokesperson, about 20 to 30 per cent of the asylum seekers have some kind of vulnerability, such as a physical disability.
Three-quarters of the children who recently fled currently cannot access school, because their families cannot afford to pay for books and uniforms. Adults are also struggling 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,” Kitidi stressed
The UN refugee agency regretted that while UNHCR had worked on an 18 million dollars contingency plan to help cover their needs, to date, no funds had been received.
The UNHCR spokesperson said: “Earlier this month, the Nigerian authorities allocated land to UNHCR for shelters, to ensure the refugees’ safety, security and self-reliance.
“In line with humanitarian principles, UNHCR acknowledges the authorities’ commitment to assist in moving the refugees at least 50 kilometres from the border.”