Medical aid group Doctors Without Borders, known by its French abbreviation MSF, has suspended its work in Cameroon's troubled Southwest region. The group is protesting a lack of progress toward the release of four MSF staff members arrested three months ago. Authorities accused the staffers of cooperating with regional separatists, something MSF denies.
Gisa Kohler is MSF's highest-ranking officer in the region. He said there has yet to be significant progress in MSF efforts to have its staff members released.
"We have been trying to communicate with the government to understand what we have been doing wrong according to them, following the statement or the press release by the minister of defense accusing MSF of supporting terrorists. We were looking for a conversation with the government authorities to understand what they think we have been doing not correctly to solve the issue and try to get our people as fast as possible out of prison," he said.
Kohler, speaking to VOA by a messaging app, said MSF has been giving psychological and financial support to the worried families of the arrested workers.
On December 27, 2021 MSF reported that two of its workers were arrested by Cameroon government troops. MSF said the military stopped an ambulance in which its workers were transporting a patient with gunshot wounds in the Southwest region town of Nguti.
On January 2, two other MSF staff members were arrested in an undisclosed Southwestern town.
The military accused the workers of complicity with separatists, who are fighting to carve out an independent English-speaking state from French-speaking majority Cameroon. The military said the staffers aided and transported separatist fighters in the medical aid group’s ambulances.
MSF denies the accusation and says its only goal is to save lives irrespective of whose life it is.
The four MSF workers remain in pre-trial detention.
Fabrice Lena is Cameroon coordinator for the international rights group Prison Watch. Lena said Cameroon is making it very difficult for MSF to save lives of people who cannot afford medical care in the central African state.
"Doctors Without Borders have every right at this point with the degree of pressure, repression on them to suspend its activities in Cameroon. After following the due procedure of humanitarian assistance to someone that has bullet wounds, its staff are arrested, locked up, what do you expect them to do? The state is not functioning with respect to the laws it has ratified and at this point, it is a call for concern," said Lena.
Last June, Cameroon’s government banned MSF from operating in the Northwest region, where it also accused the group of being too close to anglophone separatists. The group denies the allegation.
Doctors Without Borders says over 1.4 million people in Cameroon’s restive western regions need humanitarian support. The aid charity says it will continue its activities in other regions, including Cameroon’s northern border area with Nigeria, where Boko Haram militants are active.
MSF says that in 2020, it treated more than one million patients in Cameroon.