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Nigerian Refugees in Cameroon Moving Away From Volatile Border

FILE - A family of refugees that fled their homes due to violence from the Islamic extremist group Boko Haram sit inside a refugee camp in Minawao, Cameroon, Feb. 25, 2015.

The U.N. refugee agency reports increasing numbers of Nigerian refugees in Cameroon are moving away from the volatile border area to a UNHCR camp in a more secure region farther inland.

Nigeria’s presidential election in March has done nothing to stop Boko Haram’s destructive behavior. People continue to flee from violence in the country's northeast. Refugees who previously had fled to Cameroon to escape the violence in Nigeria are feeling increasingly threatened by cross-border attacks from the militant group.

The U.N. refugee agency says Nigerian refugees who were camped along the border in Cameroon's remote Far North Region are seeking shelter at a refugee camp some 100 kilometers away.

It says about 100 people each day are arriving and being registered at Minawao camp, which is run by the UNHCR and partners. Agency spokesman Leo Dobbs says the camp population has risen from about 30,000 late last year to around 44,000 today.

He says most of the new camp arrivals had earlier fled from Borno State to escape militant Boko Haram attacks. He says until now the refugees have stayed close to the border hoping they could return home quickly.

“Now, we, and the government have been encouraging people to move further south to safe areas to Minawao where they can be helped and where they are safer," Dobbs said. "The volatility of the border was borne out earlier this month when there …have been a series of attacks and clashes including a suicide bombing on July the 12th, the first such attack in Cameroon. It took place in the northern town of Fotokol.”

The UNHCR has limited access in the Far North Region because of security concerns. Nevertheless, it estimates some 12,000 unregistered refugees are living along the border. The Cameroonian authorities believe that number may be as high as 17,000.

Dobbs says the government has begun registering Nigerian refugees in the area. He tells VOA the registration process is provoking fear among some refugees that they might be returned to Nigeria against their will.

“There is always a fear of people being forced back and we have, in the past, urged the authorities in Niger and Cameroon to keep their doors open to refugees and not to send people back against their will,” he said.

In a separate development, the UNHCR says some 2,500 Nigerian refugees reportedly have arrived in the Diffa region of southern Niger in the past few days. This follows an attack by Boko Haram militants on the Nigerian town of Damassak early last week. It says most of the new arrivals are women, children and the elderly.