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

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis to whom quoted text may be attributed at today's press briefing 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.