KOLOFATA, CAMEROON - Cameroon’s military has taken back control of the border village of Ashigashia from the Nigerian militant group Boko Haram, which had occupied it for close to three weeks. As many as 10,000 Cameroonians and Nigerians have fled the fighting this week, taking refuge in schools in Kolofata and Mora in North Cameroon. Local authorities say the area is on the brink of a humanitarian crisis.
Thousands of Cameroonians and Nigerians, some with their cattle, have taken shelter at a government school in Kolofata. It is one of three schools the Cameroon government has designated as temporary refuges.
Cameroonian-born veterinarian Nana Jules said her neighbors fled the violence.
"We heard lots of gun firing. Blood everywhere and some of the people ran to Nigeria. It was a difficult situation," said Jules.
Nigerian cattle rancher Abdouraman Sanusi told VOA the violence began weeks ago, when Boko Haram militants crossed the border.
"They have occupied our place. Those who remain there are killed. Many people were killed," said Sanusi.
Despite the relative safety at the moment in Kolofata, Sanusi said conditions for his family are desperate and one of the children has died.
"We don't have water since we trekked to this place. We have many children here and one of them died because of the suffering,” said Sanusi.
Babila Akao, a senior Cameroon government official here, said many more displaced people are arriving and the situation is getting dire.
"People are suffering. The people are in a bad situation. What we shall do is to look at where we can keep these people. To know their numbers and to make sure that the council helps and give them something to eat and drink,” said Akao.
This is not the first time Ashigashia has been targeted by Boko Haram. Deadly attacks began as early as 2009, and last year militants set fire to churches, looted buildings and killed a missionary.
Cameroon Defense Minister Edgard Alain Mebe Ngo'o told VOA the situation in Ashigashia is stabilizing after a successful military offensive.
He said he is delighted that the locality of Ashigashia, which was occupied for some time by the militant group Boko Haram, has been taken over by Cameroon military. He added that his forces remain on high alert along the porous border, ready to repel any future incursions and attacks.
Kolofata has not been spared Boko Haram violence. Just last month, traditional ruler and Muslim spiritual leader Seini Boukar Lamine and his family were kidnapped.
Border incursions and fighting between Cameroon’s military and suspected Boko Haram fighters is on the rise despite Cameroon closing its border with Nigeria.
Earlier this week, Cameroonian soldiers killed some 30 suspected Boko Haram militants and seized heavy weapons and vehicles on the boundary with Nigeria’s Borno State. The operation saw hundreds of Nigerian troops cross into Cameroon in hot pursuit.
Three states in northern Nigeria have been under emergency rule for more than a year, but attacks by Boko Haram in both Nigeria and Cameroon are on the rise.