UNHCR says insufficient help reaching CAR refugees in Cameroon

Briefing Notes, 23 May 2014

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 23 May 2014, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

In Cameroon, UNHCR and its partners are battling to help growing numbers of refugees from the Central African Republic, many arriving malnourished and ill after walking and hiding in the bush for weeks before reaching the border.

Since mid-April, the rate of deaths among refugee children has been particularly high. Twenty nine children, the youngest a baby and the eldest nine years old, died between April 14 and May 18 most of them at therapeutic feeding centers, where they had arrived already gravely ill. Dehydration, hypothermia and severe anaemia were the main causes of death.

Refugees from CAR have been arriving in Cameroon since December 5 through some 30 border points across an area over hundreds of kilometres. At present there are 85,000 refugees in some 300 villages, making it extremely challenging for humanitarian agencies to meet their needs. In the worst-affected area around Gbiti which lies about 400 kilometers east of Yaounde, severe malnutrition rates among newly arriving refugee children are running at close to 40 percent.

We are relocating refugees away from the border to six sites we have set up, as well as to several villages. More than 25,000 refugees have so far been moved. This has become additionally pressing amid reports of infiltration of anti-Balaka fighters into Cameroon. On May 14 gunfire from CAR was heard near a spontaneous refugee site in Gbiti.

At present, more than 2,000 refugees are crossing into Cameroon weekly, down from the recent peak of more than 10,000 we saw in the last week of March. Arrivals decreased in early April after anti-Balaka militiamen, who have attacked refugees on the way, blocked the main roads leading to Cameroon. Newly arriving refugees tell us that many of their family members remain trapped in the bush in CAR.

UNHCR has established three new bases in eastern Cameroon to better help refugees arriving across the border, but we are not at present able to reach all 30 entry points. Since March, we have had 35 staff in three teams in the area. Each team includes specialists in protection, community services, registration, health and nutrition, water and sanitation, site planning and shelter.

While the humanitarian efforts are saving lives, we are accelerating the deployment of more NGOs for the critical sectors of health and nutrition. Currently, NGO capacity is worryingly thin in the refugee hosting areas. Several agencies have reported difficulties in covering the vast array of needs.

UNHCR is working with UNICEF, the World Food Programme and five medical aid agencies to reduce malnutrition rates and deaths. This includes the provision of therapeutic and supplementary feeding for the malnourished, general food distribution, vaccination campaigns, and the supply of clean water, sanitation and shelter.

Further funding is needed to expand services and better address the situation. UNHCR renews its call for donors to urgently step up funding to humanitarian operations in Cameroon. Of the $22.6 million UNHCR is seeking to help this population, so far just $4.2 million has been received. In addition the Regional Refugee Response Plan for Central African Republic is only 12 percent funded at present. This plan involves UNHCR and 14 partners in the four countries affected by CAR refugee crisis Cameroon, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Republic of the Congo. It represents the humanitarian responses of six UN Agencies, IOM and eight NGOs.

For more information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Yaounde, Djerassem Mbaiorem on mobile +237 90 16 06 0 8
  • In Geneva, Adrian Edwards on mobile +41 79 557 9120
  • Fatoumata Lejeune on mobile +41 79 249 34 83



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Victims of Conflict in Nigeria Find Safety in Cameroon Camp

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres visited Cameroon in late March to put a spotlight on the situation there of tens of thousands of refugees from Nigeria. These people have escaped mounting violence by insurgents in the north-east of their country. Among the places that Guterres visited during his March 24-25 visit is the Minawao Refugee Camp, where many of the uprooted have been relocated.

Situated some 120 kilometres from the dangerous border area with Nigeria in Cameroon's Far North region, Minawao camp is currently home to 33,000 Nigerian refugees, mainly from Borno state. Many of the arrivals are traumatized and in need of material and psycho-social help. They told the High Commissioner of losing their homes and belongings as well as members of their families. Some were injured. In total, an estimated 74,000 Nigerians have found refuge in Cameroon while cross-border incursions from Nigeria have displaced 96,000 Cameroonians. UNHCR photographer Hélène Caux also visited Minawao to hear the individual stories.

Victims of Conflict in Nigeria Find Safety in Cameroon Camp

Edwige Deals With Loss by Keeping Busy and Aiding Others in Mole Camp

Edwige Kpomako is a woman in a hurry; but her energy also helps the refugee from Central African Republic (CAR) to cope with the tragedy that forced her to flee to northern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) last year. Before violence returned to her country in 2012, the 25-year-old was studying for a Masters in American literature in Bangui, and looking forward to the future. "I started my thesis on the works of Arthur Miller, but because of the situation in CAR . . . ," she said, her voice trailing off. Instead, she had to rush to the DRC with a younger brother, but her fiancée and 10-year old son were killed in the inter-communal violence in CAR.

After crossing the Oubangui River to the DRC, Edwige was transferred to Mole, a camp housing more than 13,000 refugees. In a bid to move on with her life and keep busy, she started to help others, assume a leadership role and take part in communal activities, including the Brazilian martial art of capoeira. She heads the women's committee, is engaged in efforts to combat sexual violence, and acts as a liaison officer at the health centre. She also teaches and runs a small business selling face creams. "I discovered that I'm not weak," said Edwige, who remains optimistic. She is sure that her country will come out of its nightmare and rebuild, and that she will one day become a human rights lawyer helping refugees.

American photojournalist Brian Sokol took these photos.

Edwige Deals With Loss by Keeping Busy and Aiding Others in Mole Camp

New refugees from Central African Republic struggle with ration cuts in southern Chad

Since January 2014, a funding shortfall has forced the World Food Programme (WFP) to cut food rations by 60 per cent in refugee camps in southern Chad. The reduction comes as thousands of refugees from Central African Republic (CAR) continue to arrive in the south - more than 14,000 of them since the beginning of 2014. Many arrive sick, malnourished and exhausted after walking for months in the bush with little food or water. They join some 90,000 other CAR refugees already in the south - some of them for years.

The earlier refugees have been able to gain some degree of self-reliance through agriculture or employment, thus making up for some of the food cuts. But the new arrivals, fleeing the latest round of violence in their homeland, are facing a much harsher reality. And many of them - particularly children - will struggle to survive because WFP has also been forced cut the supplemental feeding programmes used to treat people trying to recover from malnutrition.

WFP needs to raise US$ 186 million to maintain feeding programmes for refugees in Africa through the end of the year. Additionally, UNHCR is urgently seeking contributions towards the US$ 78 million it has budgeted this year for food security and nutrition programmes serving refugees in Africa.

Photojournalist Corentin Fohlen and UNHCR Public Information Officer Céline Schmitt visited CAR refugees in southern Chad to document their plight and how they're trying to cope.

New refugees from Central African Republic struggle with ration cuts in southern Chad

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