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2,000 Nigerian Refugees Leaving Cameroon but Majority to Stay

FILE -A group of 133 Nigerian refugees, mostly children, who are to be transported to Yola in Nigeria's Adamawa state waits in Maroua, Cameroon, Aug. 22, 2019. (Moki Kindzeka/VOA)

Hundreds of Nigerian refugees who fled Boko Haram terrorism to northern Cameroon started returning home this week, with about 2,000 expected to leave by Monday. This is the first large repatriation of Nigerian refugees from Cameroon in two years, but 76,000 refugees are still reluctant to return to Nigeria

Cameroon’s Territorial Administration Ministry says convoys of Nigerian refugees, most of them women and children, left Minawao camp this week to to Banki, in Nigeria’s Borno state.

Scores of the children were born in the camp - their parents having fled Nigeria after Boko Haram militants began fighting for an extremist Islamist state in 2009.

Forty-seven-year old father of three Cassian Tamfo says his family fled in 2015 when Boko Haram attacked his village of Ngauro and forced all the men to join the group or be killed.

Speaking to local media in Cameroon, including Douala-based Canal 2, he says it is now time to return home.

"We have spent more than eight years in Cameroon. We are going back to our country because our country has peace."

Tamfo is one of about 2,000 Nigerian refugees expected to return to their home country by Monday.

Lawan Abba Wakilbe is a special adviser to the governor of Nigeria’s Borno state.

He visited northern Cameroon this week to supervise their voluntary return.

Wakilbe says Boko Haram has ceased large-scale attacks in Borno state, where the terrorist group was formed.

Speaking via a messaging application from Maroua, capital of Cameroon's Far North region, he thanked Cameroon for hosting the refugees.

"Not only have they [Nigerian refugees] received good treatment for almost 10 years in Cameroon, the repatriation process, the kind of compassion is quite commendable," said Wakilbe. "Not only that, the gifts, quite a lot of gifts, enough for an average person to start up a new life. These people fled from persecution of Boko Haram insurgents, so for them to return home, it means things have improved."

Wakilbe says Nigeria’s military will ensure the safety of returning refugees and authorities will help them reintegrate.

This is the largest group of Nigeran refugees to leave Cameroon since 2021, when 5,000 went home after an agreement between the two countries and the United Nations refugee agency.

Cameroon is hosting 109,000 Nigerian refugees, 74,000 in Minawao camp and 35,000 living with host communities.

Authorities say most of the refugees are scared to return and start new lives after having lost everything, including their homes, in the conflict.

Some have started businesses in Cameroon.

Governor of Cameroon's Far North region Midjiyawa Bakari spoke to VOA via a messaging application.

He says since the tripartite agreement, the government of Cameroon has been teaching the refugees to live and work for the development of their communities when they return to Nigeria. Also, says Bakari, to denounce all terrorists who may want to turn them against the Nigerian military. He says the government of Cameroon is happy that all the Nigerians who are returning are in good health.

The U.N. says that since 2009, the Boko Haram insurgency has killed about 36,000 Nigerians and indirectly killed 314,000.

The conflict has internally displaced more 3 million and forced hundreds of thousands to flee to neighboring Cameroon, Chad, and Niger.