Cameroon: Help on its way for 26,000 Central African refugees

Briefing Notes, 7 August 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 7 August 2007, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Starting tomorrow, Wednesday, UNHCR, along with other UN humanitarian agencies, is launching a relief operation to get help to some 26,000 refugees from the Central African Republic (CAR) who after fleeing insecurity in their own country are now living in precarious conditions scattered along the eastern border of Cameroon.

The refugees, from western and north-west CAR, are mainly Mbororo nomadic cattle herders. They have arrived in several waves since 2005 in the east and Adamaoua areas of Cameroon after fleeing their villages because of insecurity and relentless targeting by rebel groups and bandits who steal their cattle and kidnap women and children for ransom.

Most of the Mbororos crossed the border on foot carrying their few remaining possessions, while a small number managed to save their cattle which continue to graze in Cameroon. Others lost everything. The last recorded arrivals were in February this year.

There are a number of logistical challenges in getting the aid to the refugees, who are living in more than 50 sites spread over thousands of square kilometres along the border with CAR in the departments of Mbéré (in Adamaoua), Lom and Djerem and Kadei. The imminent start of the rainy season may hamper the delivery of the relief supplies, and security conditions caused by banditry also need to be taken into account.

UNHCR is coordinating the relief operation, which includes WFP [World Food Programme], UNICEF [United Nations Children's Fund] and UNFPA [United Nations Population Fund]. We are sending more than 200 tonnes of basic supplies such as blankets, plastic sheeting, mosquito nets, hygiene supplies and medicines to the refugees. The refugees, particularly women and children, are in a vulnerable condition with some 15-18 percent of infants malnourished and suffering a rate of infant mortality six to seven times higher than the emergency threshold in some areas.

Along with our operational partner, CARE Canada, we are supplying medicines to 32 health centres in the regions where the refugees are living. WFP is positioning 2,997 tonnes of food rations in its warehouses to supply the basic food needs of the refugees for six months. UNICEF is supplying nutritional needs to take in hand children suffering from moderate to severe malnutrition. Ministry of Health teams will work together with the agencies on distribution and carry out an urgent vaccination campaign for children up to 15 years old. UNFPA will be helping women and young girls with problems related to reproductive health and maternal mortality.

In March, UNHCR opened a new field office in the eastern Cameroon town of Bertoua, some 400 km east of the country's capital, Yaoundé, to start assisting the Mbororos. We have taken part in a number of joint assessment missions with the government and other UN agencies to Adamaoua province and other areas bordering CAR.

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.

• DONATE NOW •

 

• GET INVOLVED • • STAY INFORMED •

Central African Republic: Urgent Appeal

You can help save the lives of thousands of refugees

Donate to this crisis

Young and Struggling with Malnutrition: Child Refugees in Cameroon

Growing numbers of refugees from the Central African Republic have been arriving in Cameroon in a dreadful physical condition after spending weeks or months hiding in the bush, struggling to find food and water, and sleeping out in the open, unable to return to the homes they were forced to flee from. The most vulnerable of these refugees are the children, especially those aged under five years. It is heart-breaking to see these rail thin children, clearly in need of sustenance after living on roots and leaves. An estimated 40 per cent of children arrive suffering from malnutrition and for some the journey proves too much, but UNHCR has been helping to save lives in eastern Cameroon. With Médecins Sans Frontières, the refugee agency supports a nutrition centre in Batouri. MSF sends children there from its overwhelmed health clinic in the border town of Gbiti, where some 20,000 of the 80,000 Central African refugees in Cameroon have arrived. The partners are expanding the capacity of the centre, which treats about 100 children. More arrive daily and UNHCR has set up tents to provide shelter for the children and their mothers. Photographer Frederic Noy last week visited Gbiti and Batouri and captured the following powerful images.

Young and Struggling with Malnutrition: Child Refugees in Cameroon

A Central African Refugee's Reunion With Her Sons Brings Joy and Sorrow

The violence and conflict in the Central African Republic has forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes since mid-December. Many have sought refuge in neighbouring countries, including 80,000 in Cameroon. During the trauma and confusion of flight, families often become separated. They face many dangers on the way to safety, and their journey can take many weeks. Ramatou, a 45-year-old mother of 11 children, was separated from three of her sons and her husband when militiamen attacked her village in January. She ran in one direction with eight children and eventually made it to Cameroon with the help of African Union peace-keepers. Her husband and three sons ran in a different direction and endured many ordeals in the bush, becoming separated again. Earlier this month, Ramatou was reunited in Cameroon's Mbile Refugee Camp with the two youngest boys. She was overjoyed, but dismayed that they were on their own. She still hopes for her husband and eldest son to turn up. Photographer Fred Noy was there at the emotional reunion.

A Central African Refugee's Reunion With Her Sons Brings Joy and Sorrow

Batalimo to Batanga and Beyond: Congolese Return Home from CAR

Over the past month, almost 6,300 refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have left the Batalimo camp in the troubled Central African Republic and returned voluntarily to their homes in Equateur province. Their decision to go back is a further sign of the gravity of the situation in Central African Republic, where escalated violence since December has left hundreds of thousands internally displaced and forced almost 350,000 to flee to neighbouring countries. The refugees at Batalimo were among some 20,000 Congolese who had fled to the Central African Republic to escape inter-ethnic conflict back home. The return operation from Batalimo had been postponed several times for security and logistical reasons, but on April 10 the first convoy headed across the Oubangui River. The last arrived in the DRC on May 10. The UN refugee agency organized transportation of the refugees from Batalimo to the Central African Republic riverside town of Zinga, where they boarded boats for the crossing to Batanga or Libenge in Equateur province. In Batanga, the returnees were registered, provided with documentation and given a cash grant to help them reintegrate. They were then transported to their villages, where they will be monitored. Photographer Leonora Baumann followed one group back to the DRC.

Batalimo to Batanga and Beyond: Congolese Return Home from CAR

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.