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Relocation of Nigerians from Cameroon Border Gets Underway

FILE - Nigerian refugees sit by a UNHCR tent in the refugee camp of Minawao, on the border of Nigeria at the extreme north of Cameroon, March 29, 2014.

The U.N. refugee agency is relocating thousands of Nigerian refugees in Cameroon away from the volatile border area. The UNHCR says it will begin transferring the refugees Wednesday to a transit site at Kousseri, 90 kilometers from the border.

Cameroon authorities report about 16,000 Nigerian refugees entered the country’s Far North region during the weekend. The refugees reportedly were caught in violence in villages along the border. The authorities say refugees continue to cross into the extremely volatile border region to escape repeated attacks by Nigerian Boko Haram insurgents.

U.N. refugee spokesman Adrian Edwards called the escalating violence extremely worrying. He said it was a matter of great urgency to relocate the refugees.

“Because of conflict between military forces and insurgents happening on Cameroonian territory, we do not have access to the border areas where refugees have arrived ... Cameroon’s government continues to provide critical support in the form of escorts for humanitarian and relocation convoys to ensure the physical protection of refugees and humanitarian workers,” he said.

The UNHCR said the refugees would be transported to an established camp at Minawao after processing at the transit site at Kousseri. Minawao camp hosts more than 32,600 Nigerian refugees about 120 kilometers from the border.

Edwards said the UNHCR and Cameroon authorities anticipated more refugees from Nigeria and were considering a possible second refugee camp further away from the insecure border.

He said Nigerian insurgents were known to cross the border into Cameroon, adding an extra layer of insecurity to an already dangerous situation. He said screening refugees was an important procedure because of the reported presence of Boko Haram terrorists in the country.

“On the situation of insurgents being mixed up with refugees-this is a common problem we see in many conflict environments and there are mechanisms in place to separate people out. That is part of what the initial screening is for. Just to point out, of course, you cannot be a refugee if you are a combatant. It is explicitly stated so in the Refugee Convention. So, we do look and try to distinguish between the two and identify people with genuine needs,” he said.

The UNHCR estimates there are 66,000 Nigerian refugees in Cameroon and about 75,000 who have been forced to flee their homes from Boko Haram attacks and are internally displaced.

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