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Boko Haram Refugees Find No Shelter in Remote Northern Cameroon

FILE - People who fled their homes due to violence from the militant group Boko Haram are seen inside a refugee camp in Minawao, Cameroon, Feb. 25, 2015.

The U.N. refugee agency reports that thousands of Nigerian refugees massed along a remote border area in northern Cameroon are living in dire conditions, with little in the way of shelter and basic necessities.

Prevailing insecurity makes Cameroon’s isolated Far North Region generally out-of-bounds for aid workers. But, a rare break in the threatening environment made it possible for staff from the U.N. refugee agency to go there earlier this month and assess the situation.

UNHCR spokesman Leo Dobbs tells VOA the refugees, mostly women and children, are living in abysmal conditions and remain under threat of attack by Boko Haram militants.

“Some staying with destitute host families, but most sleeping in the open under the trees, makeshift shelters or on the dirt floors of schools," Dobbs said. "Others were in abandoned villages whose residents had fled Boko Haram attacks earlier. A number of families were separated while crossing into Cameroon.”

Dobbs says the refugees are almost entirely dependent on the local community, which is itself poor. He says people lack health care and sanitation, safe drinking water and other basic services.

UNHCR wants the refugees to move to a safe camp nearby.

FILE - A Cameroonian police officer enforces order in Minawao, Cameroon, March 15, 2016.
FILE - A Cameroonian police officer enforces order in Minawao, Cameroon, March 15, 2016.

“We are encouraging people to come away from those isolated regions in the north and near the border and to go to the Minawao camp, which is further, about 60 kilometers to the south and where there are currently 60,000 refugees and they are getting the care they need, the security," Dobbs said. "

While the UNHCR aid workers were in the area, they registered more than 21,000 refugees who have been living for months with host families after fleeing deadly Boko Haram attacks in northeast Nigeria.

A survey carried out in October by the International Organization for Migration estimated the number of refugees at around 27,000. But, Dobbs says the actual number is probably much higher.