YAOUNDE — Cameroon said it is home to over 20,000 Nigerian and Central African Republic (CAR) refugees who are fleeing disorder and killings in their countries. Fears have been raised that some of the refugees, especially from the CAR, may be coming in with weapons used during the conflict that ousted that country's former president, Francois Bozize.
Escaping political unrest
Thousands of Nigerians fleeing killings blamed on the Islamist militant group Boko Haram and the military offensive by the Nigerian army have been crossing the border to neighboring Cameroon.
Governor Fonka Augustine of the Far North region of Cameroon said there are already more than 4,000 Nigerian refugees in his region alone and more continue to come in. Thousands of others are seeking refuge in other parts of Cameroon. The International Red Cross estimates that Nigerian refugees in Cameroon number about 10,000.
One of the refugees, 36-year-old businessman Sam Uche, said he escaped to Cameroon after Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan sent troops to Yobe state to battle Boko Haram. "The Boko Haram has given Nigeria a bad name, that is why I had to escape from my country, Nigeria to this place," he said.
Uche adds that he is still hiding from Cameroonian immigration officials and has not been able to contact the United Nations refugee agency. "It is a good Country, it is a neighboring country of Nigeria but the difficulties we are facing is that the immigration officers are disturbing us," he explained.
There is also an influx of people from the Central African Republic running away from the political unrest in their country.
Influx of rebels among refugees
It is estimated that at least 12,000 CAR nationals are in Cameroon.
Clarrice Bande, a 29-year-old housewife from the center of the CAR, has been in Yaounde for two weeks now. She said she is waiting for calm to return to her country before she can go back.
She said she comes from Sibou in the Central African Republic and is running away because there is no peace there and there is danger every day.
Cameroonian authorities have also raised concerns that the Central African Republic refugees, some of whom fought during the coup that ousted the CAR's former president Francois Bozize, are coming into Cameroon with weapons.
Cameroon's secretary of state in charge of the national police, Jean Baptist Bokam, said they have deployed the military to make sure that such weapons are seized.
He said that since the change of power in the CAR there has been a flow of people into Cameroon representing both the rebels and the troops loyal to the former CAR president Bozize. Bokam said it has affected security inside Cameroon and he says in the east of the country there is now a security alert in effect. He said the situation is being handled.
Cameroonians, for their part, have mixed reactions about the increasing number of refugees in their country. Pa Ambe Martin, a transporter, welcomes the refugees.
"They are neighbors and if they have a problem, they can run to Cameroon as usual," Martin stated. "Those who have problems and they think that they can come to Cameroon can come. If you have a problem, you run to your neighbor's house."
But Joe Njobati, a business man, sees problems with the influx. "It will be difficult for the government or the Cameroonian authorities to go solve problems in Nigeria. The influx of Nigerians will only create problems for the Cameroonian authorities," he said.
The farmers in Cameroon are also raising fears of potential farmer/grazer conflicts as some of the refugees are coming to Cameroon with their cattle.
The government of Cameroon and the International Red Cross said, with the fighting in Nigeria and Central African Republic persisting, there are indications that the number of refugees will continue to increase.