GENEVA - The United Nations refugee agency says Boko Haram insurgents have increased cross-border attacks as they pursue refugees from northern Nigeria who fled into Cameroon, seeking safety. The UNHCR says it is stepping up efforts to move the refugees away from the volatile border to a safer area inland.
The U.N. refugee agency reports around 100 Nigerians are crossing into Cameroon every day. But, it says this does not guarantee their safety. Over the past two weeks, it says cross-border fighting has worsened.
UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming tells VOA that Boko Haram insurgents, in hot pursuit of the refugees fleeing for their lives, are attacking and shelling Cameroonian villages located along the border with Nigeria.
“There was a recent incident where Boko Haram attacked a series of villages in Cameroon along the border with Nigeria and they even burnt down 10 churches," said Fleming. "So of course, even the villagers, the residents there are fleeing these attacks. Eight people were killed in one place and there have been robberies as well. So, it is a volatile situation along the border there and people are terrified.”
Fleming says UNHCR staff is urgently trying to move the refugees away from this dangerous border. The agency already has relocated more than 8,600 Nigerians to the Minawao refugee camp over the past two weeks. It is in the process of moving 5,000 others away from the border town of Fotokol.
The UNHCR spokeswoman says it is critical this be done quickly as the refugees are living in absolute fear. Besides these dangers, she says living conditions in Fotokol are dire. She notes refugees are living in overcrowded classrooms and in makeshift shelters, with no basic facilities or health care. She says they rely on local authorities and villagers for food.
Fleming says the heavy influx of refugees is straining the facilities in Minawao camp, which is overcrowded and needs to be expanded urgently.
“So many people are sick," Fleming said. "There is a real high prevalence of respiratory infections among the children because during their time spent on the open border where they were exposed to the wind and cold. Also, many children are arriving malnourished--too large numbers for our comfort. We are doing our best to address that problem. We are desperately trying to add clean water to the camp and latrines and showers so that we can contain any health risk. Cholera in this part of Cameroon is endemic.”
Cameroon currently hosts more than 43,700 Nigerians. The number is expected to grow as Boko Haram continues its ferocious onslaught against the people of northern Nigeria.