Nigerians and Cameroonians pray for peace in Cameroon, at Saint Joseph's Anglophone Parish in Cameroon's capital, Yaounde, Sept. 6, 2019. (M.Kindzeka/VOA)
Nigerians and Cameroonians pray for peace in Cameroon, at Saint Joseph's Anglophone Parish in Cameroon's capital, Yaounde, Sept. 6, 2019. (M.Kindzeka/VOA)

YAOUNDE, CAMEROON - Nigerians living in Cameroon are asking both their government and their host country for help after at least 20 Nigerians were killed in separatist violence.

Ngozi Ester, 27, says she, her husband and three children escaped from the English-speaking northwestern town of Kumbo after suspected separatists attacked them one week ago.

Hundreds of Nigerians, in the company of Cameroonians, pray for peace in Cameroon's restive English-speaking regions, at Saint Joseph's Anglophone Parish in Cameroon's capital, Yaounde, Sept. 6, 2019. (M.Kindzeka/VOA)

"I pleaded with them that I am a Nigerian, but they insisted that since they are using the money for the taxes I pay to buy weapons and kill Anglophones, I am supporting the crisis, and they burned all of my goods and they destroyed everything I was doing," she said from Cameroon's capital, Yaounde.

Separatists in north- and southwestern Cameroon ordered all businesses to close to protest the lifetime prison sentence given to their leader, Ayuk Tabe, by a military tribunal in Yaounde.

Joseph Ukah Mbila, president of the Nigerian Union in Yaounde, says they have taken in at least 100 Nigerians who fled the crisis. He says many of them were kidnapped and released only after ransoms were paid.

"Nigerians in those two regions have suffered a lot," he said. "You know, we do not depend on salaries; we depend on our business and when you see they are not doing business, they have children, they have house rents to pay, they have electricity bills to pay, water bills and other things, they are suffering a lot. Many of them have packed out to Yaounde, to Douala, to Bafoussam."

North- and southwest Cameroon have been rocked by violence since 2017, when English-speaking separatists began pushing to secede from Cameroon and its French-speaking majority.

Men hand out flags to people praying for peace in Cameroon's restive English-speaking regions, at Saint Joseph's Anglophone Parish in Cameroon's capital, Yaounde, Sept. 6, 2019. (M.Kindzeka/VOA)

Since Friday, a series of special church services has been organized in Yaounde to raise funds to assist stranded Nigerians. John Ibe, secretary general of the Nigerian Union in Yaounde, says the beneficiaries will include families of 12 Nigerians who died in a shipwreck in late August.

He says the 12 victims, like thousands of commuters between Cameroon and Nigeria, had avoided traveling to Nigeria by road for fear of being killed or kidnapped by fighters.

"In less than one year, we have had four shipwrecks between Nigeria and Cameroon. This kind of loss of life, this kind of wanton loss of material resources. ... Nigerians cannot take it anymore," Ibe said.

Mbila says Nigerians want their government to help the government of Cameroon find a lasting solution to the crisis.

"There should be dialogue because there is nothing in this world that cannot be resolved on a round table," he said. "There should be an exchange of ideas so that peace will come back to this great nation. We suffered civil war in Nigeria and we know what it means."

It is estimated that between four and five million Nigerians live in Cameroon, the majority living in the English-speaking regions. The government has advised foreigners who feel threatened to leave, but says it is protecting everyone.