News / Africa

Cameroon Struggles with Thousands of Nigerian Refugees

About a thousand Nigerian refugees are living at the refugee camp in Minawao about 130 km east of the border.  (Photo: Ntaryike Divine Jr. / VOA)
About a thousand Nigerian refugees are living at the refugee camp in Minawao about 130 km east of the border. (Photo: Ntaryike Divine Jr. / VOA)
Ntaryike Divine Jr.
Thousands of people have fled northeastern Nigeria since mid-May when the Nigerian military began an offensive against the militant Islamist sect, Boko Haram. Neighboring countries like Cameroon have been confronted with a double challenge as they try to meet the needs of civilians fleeing violence, while also trying to prevent infiltration by Boko Haram militants.
Pastor Daouda Dilmas is one of thousands of Nigerians who have fled into northern Cameroon in the past four months.
He fled with his family from the Goza local government area of Borno State in early June. "We came here because of the Boko Haram attacks on us,” he said, adding that they had been calling on Nigerian authorities for help, but the intervention came too late.
"Because we had been reporting to them but they were unable to come as early as possible. That is the reason that we run for our lives," said Dilmas.
The pastor and his family are living at a refugee camp set up by the U.N. and Cameroon's government in Minawao, about 130 kilometers east of the border. However, most of the refugees are squatting in communities or staying in makeshift shelters in the bush.
It is difficult to know exactly how many people have arrived. U.N. agencies have counted between 3,000 and 8,000 refugees. Local government and civil society sources say that number is closer to 20,000 and that it is mostly women and children.
The Boko Haram insurgency has been raging in northern Nigeria since 2010. Thousands have been killed. The militant sect wants to establish an Islamic state in northern Nigeria. The state launched a large-scale military offensive against Boko Haram in mid-May.
Security forces have restricted media access to the frontlines, and cell phone communications have been cut in much of the northeast during the offensive.
Many of the Nigerian refugees are living in tents or makeshift shelters in host communities. Photo: Ntaryike Divine Jr./VOA
Many of the Nigerian refugees are living in tents or makeshift shelters in host communities. Photo: Ntaryike Divine Jr./VOA
Living in fear

A VOA reporter visited refugees scattered throughout northern Cameroon in August. The refugees described having fled in great haste, leaving behind belongings and herds of cattle. Some said they decided to leave following threats and brutal attacks by Boko Haram militants. Some described waking up in the middle of the night to gunshots as soldiers battled militants. They said they fled soon after for fear of being caught in the crossfire. Many said that they feared the Nigerian military.
Shenaku Alimu said she fled her village of Hadwa after soldiers killed her husband.
She recounted how one evening in June, soldiers raided her village.

“They said they had come to arrest Boko Haram militants. My husband, who is Muslim, got scared and tried to run. They shot and killed him in front of me…  The authorities have failed to protect us and that is why I fled Nigeria. I am not keen to go back. I lost everything, including my husband," said Alimu.
Human rights organizations say that the Nigerian military's heavy-handed response to Boko Haram over the past three years has included abuses against civilians that have only fed the insurgency.
The Nigerian government denies such accusations.
There is concern that ongoing military action in Nigeria will push militants into Cameroon and Niger.
Cameroon has been on guard against possible spillover from the insurgency. Boko Haram claimed responsibility for kidnapping a French family of seven in northern Cameroon in February. The family was released two months later following negotiations. 
In August, the Nigerian military released a statement saying that Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau, had been injured in battle and then snuck across the border into the Cameroonian town of Amitchide where he later died.
In June, Cameroon deployed part of its elite Rapid Intervention Battalion to reinforce security along its border with Nigeria.
Entry denied

Some refugees told VOA that Cameroonian security forces initially blocked them from crossing the border out of fear that they were Boko Haram.
Amadou Mbaino said he was not able to get into Cameroon until July. He is now living in a community school building in Mokolo town but remains one of the thousands of undocumented refugees in the country.
He said "when we were fleeing, security forces stopped us at the border and ordered us to go back. They said we could be Boko Haram militants and so we had to trek for several days to find crossings where there were no soldiers. As I speak, I am not at ease because there are frequent controls by gendarmes who want to send us back. But I cannot go back to hell."

The governor of the Far North region, which has the highest concentration of refugees, told VOA that refugees must start complying with immigration regulations or face the consequences.
Cameroonian border communities, like the village of Sangme, say it is a question of security.
Village chief Moussa Abdoulaye said "that is the problem. We do not know who is who among these people. Their presence here is causing us worries because we don't know if there are any Boko Haram members among them or whether Boko Haram would follow them to attack them here. We are taking measures to send back anyone with suspicious behavior."
Humanitarian agencies have been working to provide assistance to refugees, in particular in the Minawao refugee camp. However, there are concerns that the massive influx is straining the already limited resources of host communities. northern Cameroon is prone to food shortages and disease outbreaks during the rainy season.

You May Like

Video Russia’s Syrian Escalation Tests Obama’s Crisis Response

Critics once again question whether president has been slow to act on Syrian conflict, thus creating opening for powers like Russia More

Ancient African DNA Shows Mass Migration Back Into Africa

First genetic analysis of ancient human remains in Africa suggests massive migration from north around time of Egyptian empire More

NASA: Pluto Has Blue Sky

New photos also reveal the presence of water ice More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: sone smith from: new york
September 07, 2013 10:52 AM
I hope the International Community will respond positively to this situation before is gets out of control.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugeesi
Henry Ridgwell
October 08, 2015 8:02 PM
Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

VOA Blogs