MINAWAO, CAMEROON —
Refugee camps in Cameroon continue to see a steady influx of displaced civilians from both Nigeria and Cameroon as soldiers intensify raids against Boko Haram.
Abubakar Salifou, 62, who had just arrived at the Minawao camp in northern Cameroon, told U.N. officials how he escaped with his wife and four children from the town of Banki in Nigeria just four days ago.
Salifou said insurgents looted the cows and shops when Nigerian and Cameroonian soldiers arrived and that the soldiers have been carrying out raids on suspected Boko Haram strongholds.
Mounouna Foutso, Cameroon minister of youth affairs and civic education, said 800 people have been arriving at the Minawao camp every week for the past two months. The camp now hosts more than 55,000 people, with about 50 babies born here each month, he said.
“The humanitarian crisis here in the far north [Cameroon] is very preoccupying and displaced persons and refugees constitute a challenge for the government and its partners,” Foutso said.
The Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria – now in its sixth year – has spilled over into Cameroon, Chad and Niger.
Militants have targeted civilians, razing villages and killing residents. An estimated 20,000 people have been killed, and more than 2 million displaced, according to U.N. figures.
Cameroonian troops have joined Nigerian soldiers this month in fresh operations to chase militants from remaining strongholds around Lake Chad and in the Sambisa forest in northeast Nigeria.
Visiting the Minawao camp, U.S. Ambassador to Cameroon Michael Hoza said the main goal is defeating Boko Haram.
The U.S. has sent military advisers to the region and last week gave Cameroon’s military armored vehicles, generators and other tactical equipment.
“We hope to increase our effort to eliminate Boko Haram permanently so that the Nigerians can go home and we can restore the economy and people can get back to doing what they are supposed to be doing, which is raising their families and building a bright future," Hoza said.
The refugees sang as officials departed the camp. Aid workers at Minawao say sanitation, health care and adequate food for the growing population are among their top needs.