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UN: Women and Children Fleeing Cameroon Face Poverty, Exploitation

FILE - A still image taken from a video shot on Dec. 9, 2017, shows Cameroonian refugees standing outside a center in Agbokim Waterfalls village, Nigeria, near the country's border with Cameroon.

The U.N. refugee agency warns women and children fleeing English-speaking areas of Cameroon for Nigeria are facing a multitude of risks, including poverty and exploitation.

UNHCR has registered more than 10,000 refugees since they began fleeing English-speaking parts of Cameroon for eastern Nigeria’s Cross River state in early October. It reports about 80 percent of the refugees are women and children.

The Anglophone community in Cameroon is protesting political and economic discrimination in the majority French-speaking country. Many of the demonstrations have turned violent, prompting people to seek refuge in Nigeria.

As the number of people fleeing Cameroon grows, so do the risks to their welfare, says the UNHCR. Agency spokesman William Spindler says some of the children have fled to Nigeria on their own or become separated from their families along the way.

“Unaccompanied and separated children are particularly affected by difficult access to food and the lack of subsistence opportunities. UNHCR staff have received numerous reports that children have to work or beg to survive or to help their families. Many children are unable to attend school, as they lack both the time and funds for education,” he said.

Spindler said the UNHCR is working with Nigerian authorities to reunite separated children with their parents. Most of the families are headed by women who, he notes, are vulnerable to exploitation.

He said the women who cannot find work are at risk of sexual and gender-based violence. Spindler says many resort to what he calls survival sex to support themselves and their children.

He told VOA the UNHCR is trying to facilitate contacts between the Nigerian and Cameroonian governments so they can better protect the refugees and provide for their needs.