Cameroon: New office opens to protect and care for Mbororo Central Africans

Briefing Notes, 27 March 2007

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 27 March 2007, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR has just opened a new field office in the eastern Cameroon town of Bertoua, some 400 km east of the country's capital, Yaoundé. The need for a new and stronger field presence was triggered by the arrival of several successive waves of ethnic Mbororo refugees fleeing from the neighbouring Central African Republic in 2005-06. In total, an estimated 25,000 refugees arrived in Cameroon and are scattered along the country's border with the Central African Republic (CAR).

Mbororos are nomadic cattle breeders from west and north-west CAR. Those fleeing to Cameroon say they have been systematically and relentlessly targeted by organised groups of bandits and rebels who steal their cattle. Livestock are not only the Mbororo's primary possession, but also a sign of wealth in this part of Africa. Many Mbororo refugees also claim that their wives and children have been kidnapped and they had to pay high ransoms to get them back.

Most of Mbororos cross the border on foot, carrying their few remaining possessions. A small number of those who managed to save some of their livestock continue to graze cattle inside Cameroon. But the others, having lost everything, are in an extremely precarious situation.

The government of Cameroon, in line with its national refugee law adopted in July 2005 and the 1969 OAU Convention, has recognized this population as prima facie refugees. UNHCR took part in a number of joint assessment missions with the government and other UN agencies to Adamaoua province and other areas bordering CAR. According to their reports, most of the Mbororo refugees scattered across eastern Cameroon live in destitute conditions, with children often suffering from malnutrition and diseases.

UNHCR now has a five-member team in Bertoua, enabling us to carry out our refugee protection mandate and to provide necessary assistance. The immediate priorities are food, health care, water and sanitation projects. In 2007, we are seeking US$1.1 million to reinforce our protection monitoring and to extend our assistance programmes in eastern Cameroon. We are also planning to move the destitute refugee population from the insecure region around Ngaoui to Ngam, about 65 km from the border with the CAR. Instead of moving them to a camp, these refugees will be moved to rural areas where they can be more self-reliant.

In addition to the 25,000 Mbororo refugees from CAR, Cameroon presently hosts some 11,000 refugees and over 4,000 asylum seekers from various countries in Central and West Africa.

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Crisis in the Central African Republic

Little has been reported about the humanitarian crisis in the northern part of the Central African Republic (CAR), where at least 295,000 people have been forced out of their homes since mid-2005. An estimated 197,000 are internally displaced, while 98,000 have fled to Chad, Cameroon or Sudan. They are the victims of fighting between rebel groups and government forces.

Many of the internally displaced live in the bush close to their villages. They build shelters from hay, grow vegetables and even start bush schools for their children. But access to clean water and health care remains a huge problem. Many children suffer from diarrhoea and malaria but their parents are too scared to take them to hospitals or clinics for treatment.

Cattle herders in northern CAR are menaced by the zaraguina, bandits who kidnap children for ransom. The villagers must sell off their livestock to pay.

Posted on 21 February 2008

Crisis in the Central African Republic

Silent Success

Despite being chased from their homes in the Central African Republic and losing their livelihoods, Mbororo refugees have survived by embracing a new way of life in neighbouring Cameroon.

The Mbororo, a tribe of nomadic cattle herders from Central African Republic, started fleeing their villages in waves in 2005, citing insecurity as well as relentless targeting by rebel groups and bandits who steal their cattle and kidnap women and children for ransom.

They arrived in the East and Adamaoua provinces of Cameroon with nothing. Though impoverished, the host community welcomed the new arrivals and shared their scant resources. Despite this generosity, many refugees died of starvation or untreated illness.

Help arrived in 2007, when UNHCR and partner agencies began registering refugees, distributing food, digging and rehabilitating wells as well as building and supplying medical clinics and schools, which benefit refugees and the local community and promote harmony between them. The Mbororo were eager to learn a new trade and set up farming cooperatives. Though success didn't come immediately, many now make a living from their crops.

Mbororo refugees continue to arrive in Central African Republic - an average of 50 per month. The long-term goal is to increase refugees' self-reliance and reduce their dependency on humanitarian aid.

Silent Success

Shared Experience Binds Hosts and Refugees Across the Oubangui River

The Oubangui River is a vital source of food and water for the hundreds of thousands living along its 1,000-kilometre-long course, and many rely on it for transport, trade and agriculture. The river, forming the border between the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) with Central African Republic and Republic of Congo, has also been a life-saving bridge to safety for people fleeing the waves of violence that plague this deprived region - and a route back home when peace returns. This year, more than 40,000 terrified people have fled conflict in Central African Republic and crossed the river to find shelter in DRC's Equateur and Oriental provinces. Here they have received a warm welcome from the local people, many of whom know exactly what it is like to be a refugee. Time and again, newly arrived refugees from CAR seek out people they once hosted in Bangui and other places along the river. And these old friends are offering them and their families places in already cramped homes, and sharing their meagre resources. Photographer Brian Sokol recently travelled to Equateur province to document the extraordinary bond between the refugees and host communities. These are some of his striking portraits of hosts and their guests. They know that one day their roles could be reversed by the ebb and flow of violence.

Shared Experience Binds Hosts and Refugees Across the Oubangui River

Cameroon: A Young Victim of ViolencePlay video

Cameroon: A Young Victim of Violence

Militia attacks on civilians in Central African Republic have left many people, including children, dead or badly injured. Six-year-old Ibrahim is recovering from one such attack, lucky to be alive.
Cameroon:  Malnourished ChildrenPlay video

Cameroon: Malnourished Children

Some 80,000 people from Central African Republic have fled to Cameroon this year, many of them after walking for weeks or months through the bush with almost no food and water. Many of the children have severe malnutrition. UNHCR and its partners are rushing to help them.
UNHCR's Dr. Paul Spiegel on the Border of CAR  and CameroonPlay video

UNHCR's Dr. Paul Spiegel on the Border of CAR and Cameroon

This video was shot by one of our staff* using a mobile phone as they helped refugees who had crossed the river to safety.