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Humanitarian Crisis Looms at Cameroon Refugee Camp

The number of Nigerian refugees fleeing to Cameroon to escape Boko Haram terrorism has doubled within the past month. Shown here is a refugee camp in Minawao on Cameroon's northern border with Nigeria, Feb. 23, 2015. ( Photo: Moki Edwin Kindzeka for VOA)

The number of Nigerian refugees fleeing to Cameroon to escape Boko Haram terrorism has doubled within the past month - from 20,000 to 40,000 in 21 days.

U.N. Refugee Agency staff take a roll call of Nigerians arriving at the Minawao refugee camp. The coordinator of U.N. systems in Cameroon, Najat Rochdi, said the massive arrival of refugees in villages poses problems of water, health and education, and they have to act immediately to support the host communities to improve their health situations and give them water. She said the pressure is high for the host communities.

Among the recent arrivals at Minawao is 41-year-old Muhamadou Ousman, the oldest brother in a family of 14 who said he lost all of his siblings when they turned down recruitment offers from the Nigerian militant group.

"They killed all of my brothers. Boko Haram will come and attack you. Can you join us? When you say no, they will kill you," he lamented. "My mother just advised me to go. I told her when I go who will give you food. She said no I should go."

Ousman is a Muslim and his presence in the camp is not appreciated by Christians who say they underwent physical and psychological torture in Nigeria in the hands of people who said they were Muslims. Elias Yega - a Catholic Christian - said they have been asking Cameroon security forces to be watchful of all Muslims in the camp.

"They combine us both Muslims and Christians. But sometimes we get problems because we call them Boko Haram. They will arrest them and take to security agents here," stated Yega.

Boko Haram infiltration

Last week, the Cameroonian forces arrested hundreds of the refugees saying they were suspected Boko Haram fighters who had infiltrated the camp. Yega said life has been extremely difficult for him and his family for the one week he has been here. "I brought all of my family. My wife is in the market, my children are from school. They give us food normally, but the feeding will not satisfy us. That is why they call us here today in a meeting so, may be tomorrow they will give us feeding [more food]," he said. "We eat two times in a day. We cook in our various houses."

Mouhaman Boukar, a cattle rancher who fled from Yerwa, Borno State said he is thankful to God for saving his life from the insurgents, but said the increasing number of Nigerians in the refugee camp is making living conditions unbearable.

"Unfortunately, day by day people are coming. The population is increasing, there is no water, there is no place for toilet, we are just dumping anyhow. Now in this camp for about 15 days we have not got food. All of us are hungry and just hanging around," Boukar stated.

Najat Rochdi of the U.N. system in Cameroon said a humanitarian crisis is looming. She said that with the help of Cameroon's military and local authorities they are about to transfer 5,500 refugees who are at Kolofata to Minawao. Rochdi said the plan is to transfer between 750 and 1,000 per day, and that in two days they already transferred 1,200 refugees to Minawao.

Humanitarian crisis

Some international bodies have promised to help the refugees. Jean Louis de Brouwer, director of operations for the European Union's Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection office said they will double their assistance to the refugees this year to stop the looming humanitarian crisis.

He said at the beginning of this financial year they budgeted some $4 million but have to double it to nearly $8 million, which he considered still insufficient to meet the growing humanitarian needs of the refugees. Brouwer said last year the European Union assisted them with about $11 million.

As Cameroon, the United Nations and the international community struggle to attend to the growing needs of the displaced persons and refugees, some Nigerian kids who constitute the majority of refugees at the Minawao camp say the want to get an education; just what they are denied by the militant group in their own country. Nine-year-old Bejigele James, who has been enrolled in class at the camp said his dream is to become a medical doctor.

"I want that my teacher can teach me. I want something that can enter my brain so that they [people] can say that you are a good boy," said James.

He is nostalgic about his country Nigeria and misses the education he had in his home town, Yerwa. He told VOA when Boko Haram will give peace a chance he will return to his lovely country Nigeria. James was singing his country's national anthem as we left the camp.