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.

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Crisis in the Central African Republic

Central African Republic: Crossing the Oubangui to Home and Safety

The escalating violence in Central African Republic (CAR) has caught everyone in its web, including refugees from countries such as Chad, Cameroon and Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). For the Congolese living in places like the CAR capital, Bangui, or the town of Batalimo, home was just a short trip away across the Oubangui River. UNHCR earlier this year agreed to help those who wished to repatriate due to fear for their safety. The refugee agency has since mid-January facilitated the return home of hundreds of these refugees. The following photographs, taken earlier this month by UNHCR staff members Dalia Al Achi and Hugo Reichenberger, depict the repatriation of a group of 364 Congolese. The refugees portrayed were heading to the riverside town of Zongo in Democratic Republic of the Congo's Equateur province, where they spent a night in a transit centre before continuing to their hometowns. They were relieved to be leaving, and some were in poor health. The decision to return to the country they had fled during the years of civil war from 1996-2003 was not easy. Some 6,000 of the 17,000 Congolese refugees in Central African Republic have registered with UNHCR to go home.

Central African Republic: Crossing the Oubangui to Home and Safety

2014: CAR refugees attacked as they flee to Cameroon

Each week 10,000 Muslims cross into eastern Cameroon to escape the violence consuming the Central African Republic (CAR). Many new arrivals report that they have been repeatedly attacked as they fled. The anti-Balaka militiamen have blocked main roads to Cameroon, forcing people to find alternate routes through the bush. Many are walking two to three months to reach Cameroon, arriving malnourished and bearing wounds from machetes and gunshots.

UNHCR and its partners have established additional mobile clinics at entry points to provide emergency care as refugees arrive. The UN refugee agency is also supporting public health centres that have been overwhelmed by the number of refugees and their condition.

Meanwhile, UNHCR has relocated some 20,000 refugees who had been living in the open in the Garoua Bouai and Kenzou border areas, bringing them to new sites at Lolo, Mborguene, Gado and Borgop in the East and Adamwa regions.

Since the beginning of the year, Cameroon has received nearly 70,000 refugees from CAR, adding to the 92,000 who fled in earlier waves since 2004 to escape rebel groups and bandits in the north of their country.

UNHCR staff members Paul Spiegel and Michele Poletto recently travelled to eastern Cameroon and have the following photos to share from their iPhone and camera.

2014: CAR refugees attacked as they flee to Cameroon

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