YAOUNDE— Hundreds of Cameroonians have been forcefully expelled from neighboring Equatorial Guinea for being in the country illegally. They are complaining that their property was seized and valid transit documents are not being recognized. Part of this issue appears to be related to the refugees fleeing the violence in the Central African Republic (CAR).
The border town of Campo in southwestern Cameroon has seen hundreds of Cameroonians returning from Equatorial Guinea in recent weeks after they were forcefully expelled.
Eleven-year-old Lesslie Ndifor had joined his father in Bata in Equatorial Guinea and began school there. He told VOA armed men chased them from their home.
“They just came, started beating us and seized everything from us. As you can see, he [my father] is seriously wounded,” said Lesslie.
Lesslie's father, Ndifor Thomas, a motor mechanic, said he had acquired a passport of the Central African Economic and Monetary Community, CEMAC, and is surprised that it was not recognized in Equatorial Guinea.
Last year, CEMAC heads of state agreed to cancel visa requirements and to begin issuing CEMAC biometric passports in August in order to promote better regional economic integration between Cameroon, Chad, Equatorial Guinea, the Central African Republic, Gabon and Congo Brazzaville.
But Decodeh Marcel, a Cameroonian who was also deported from Equatorial Guinea, told VOA the new document was useless.
“How can we talk of regional integration under these circumstances? What if Cameroonians start sending away other nationals from their own territory? It is really terrible,” said Marcel.
Cameroonian officials confirm this is an ongoing problem.
Sillas Thomas Charlie is an administrator in Campo. He said they often don’t have the facilities to handle the needs of those fleeing Equatorial Guinea.
He said hardly a week passes without scores of Cameroonians coming back from Equatorial Guinea without any possessions or money and they are dependent. He said his local government needs more resources to care for these people who are often sick and hungry.
This situation is sparking anger in Cameroon - where many locals are pressing for the government to retaliate by expelling many of the 10,000 Equatorial Guineans who work and study in Cameroon.
The governor of Cameroon’s South Region, Jules Marcellin Njaggah, told VOA that he understands the sentiment but he said officials are concentrating on fixing the problem with Equatorial Guinea.
The deteriorating security situation in the Central Africa Republic is part of the issue.
The spiraling violence in December resulted in hundreds of thousands of displaced people - prompting Equatorial Guinea and Gabon to suspend the agreement to allow freer cross border movements.
Despite the set-back, the director of integration in CEMAC, Cameroonian-born Chantale Elombat said she was optimistic that the situation will be resolved in due course.
She said these setbacks are temporary and there is no reason why Central Africa cannot create a successful economic trade bloc.
Equatorial Guinea has the strongest economy in CEMAC, with 10 percent growth - prompting many Cameroonians and other Central Africans to seek better job opportunities there.