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Nigerian Official Appeals for Assistance for Bakassi Returnees

Tens of thousands of Nigerian residents in the disputed Bakassi peninsula have fled to southern Nigeria, creating what has been characterized as a growing humanitarian problem. We hear more from Gilbert da Costa in Abuja.

An estimated 200,000 Bakassi returnees live in temporary shelters in southern Nigeria. Overcrowded camps in Akwa Ibom state are receiving a steady influx of newcomers fleeing what they said were persecution by Cameroonian soldiers who now control the oil-rich territory.

A spokesman for the Akwa Ibom state government, Aniekan Umanah, says providing assistance to the returnees is straining state government resources. He called for urgent federal government intervention.

"We have camps in three local government areas. At the first instance, we recorded up to 75,000 [returnees] and took steps in providing emergency feeding and medical relief, clothing supply and so on to support them. Only three days ago, we had another batch of about 20 buses with new returnees. We are handicapped and we don't know when it would end. International intervention, federal intervention - whatever supports that can come the way of the state that is what we need," said Umanah.

Some 300,000 Nigerians, mostly fishermen, lived in Bakassi before its transfer to Cameroon in August, in compliance with the International Court of Justice ruling in 2002 that the long-disputed peninsular belonged to Cameroon.

A transitional arrangement, brokered by the United Nations, was to allow Nigeria and Cameroon jointly administer the territory for five years after the formal handover. Nigerian residents, fearing harassment by Cameroonian security forces, have besieged makeshift relief camps in Akwa Ibom and neighboring Cross River states and are in desperate need of help.

To meet the resettlement and rehabilitation needs of the returnees, a presidential task force set up by the federal government has come up with a budget of about $200 million. The federal government has so far provided less than $20 million.