Recent Attacks in Nigeria prompt new refugees to Cameroon, more continue to arrive

Briefing Notes, 2 September 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 2 September 2014, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Recent attacks from insurgent groups in the north east of Nigeria has prompted thousands of Nigerians to find refuge in Cameroon in the past 10 days, with some newly arrived refugees sleeping on the ground in schools and churches and children suffering poor health. UNHCR is very concerned that even once they have crossed into Cameroon, they are still being pursued by insurgents and we have already started to relocate some of the refugees to a refugee camp where they can enjoy safer conditions.

According to authorities, in the last ten days at least 9,000 people have arrived in Cameroon's Far North Region, more than 2,000 sought refuge in Niger, and more people continue to arrive. The new arrivals fled recurrent attacks in the past three weeks in the Gwoza area in Nigeria's Borno State, before reaching safety in Cameroon. Authorities report that 5,500 refugees have arrived in Kolofata, 3,000 in Kerawa and 370 in Mora, in the Mayo Sava and Logone-et-Chari districts. However, even upon arrival in Cameroon, they are not necessarily out of harm's way. On Sunday, insurgents attacked Kerawa town inside Cameroon, forcing refugees and some local residents to flee further inland.

Our teams have had limited access to the border areas these past weeks because of the increasing insecurity. Despite the volatile situation, we were able to go to Mora over the week end, where we met the new arrivals living in churches and schools and with host families. . The refugees told our teams that everyone had fled and that their villages in north east Nigeria are now empty. Immediate assistance has been provided by the authorities, NGO Caritas, UNHCR and the host community.

On Sunday, our team reached the Cameroonian border village of Koza and met with some refugee women. They told us that when their homes were attacked some days ago in Gokou, in Nigeria's Borno State, their husbands had sent them with their children to hide in the surrounding mountains. They later saw heavy smoke coming from their village, which made them fear insurgents had burnt their homes. They waited until night time and had to walk some 30 kilometers to reach Koza. They have had no news of their husbands.

On Monday, UNHCR started to relocate 80 of the new refugees, mainly women and children, from Koza to the refugee camp of Minawao, some 120 kilometers from the border. The camp is already hosting some 6,000 Nigerian refugees who were transferred from the border earlier in 2013 and 2014. In early August, relocation to the camp had been suspended due to insecurity. Today (Tuesday), security allowing, we will start the relocation of refugees from Mora and Kolofata to the camp. The total number of Nigerian refugees in Cameroon now stands at some 39,000 according to local authorities, including 19,633 who have been registered by UNHCR.

Insurgents crossed the border last week and attacked villages on the Cameroon side, prompting some 1,700 local inhabitants to flee further inland to villages near the border with Chad. Villagers fled in panick after insurgents slit the throats of 3 people in the Church in Assighassia. The attackers also burnt down a police and a gendarmerie stations, a local cotton company, and stole some 400 cows. UNHCR is extremely concerned that attacks from insurgents seem to also now target civilians in Cameroon territory.

In addition, more than 2,000 Nigerians fled last week to the Lake Chad islands in Niger, fleeing attacks in Nigeria Borno State. Niger is already hosting more than 50,000 forcibly displaced from Nigeria who have arrived in the country since May 2013; 1,500 have found refuge in Chad. Inside Nigeria, some 645,000 people are displaced in Adamawa, Borno, and Yobe States, as a result of the violence.

For more information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Dakar (regional), Helene Caux on mobile + 221 77 333 1291
  • In Cameroon, Djerassem Mbaiorem on mobile +237 70 40 18 41
  • In Geneva, Adrian Edwards on mobile +41 79 557 9120
  • In Geneva, Dan McNorton on mobile +41 79 217 3011
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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

Nigeria: The Casualties of Conflict

One year after the Nigerian government declared a state of emergency in the northern states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe, violence continues to displace people within Nigeria and to neighbouring Cameroon, Chad and Niger, including some 22,000 Nigerian refugees. Civilians trapped at home face recurrent attacks by insurgents, with a series of kidnappings and killings culminating in mid-April this year in the abduction of more than 200 girls from a school in Chibok, Borno.

UNHCR's Hélène Caux recently travelled to the region to meet with some of the 250,000 internally displaced, including students caught up in the violence. Those she spoke to told her about their fears, and the atrocities and suffering they had endured or witnessed. People spoke about their homes and fields being destroyed, grenade attacks on markets, the killing of friends and relatives, and arbitrary arrests. Uniting them is an overwhelming sense of terror. Caux found it a challenge to photograph people who live in constant fear of being attacked. "It was this delicate balance to try to achieve between featuring them, communicating their stories and protecting them," she said.

Nigeria: The Casualties of Conflict

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

Cameroon: A Story of SurvivalPlay video

Cameroon: A Story of Survival

In Minawao camp, Cameroon, the memories of immense suffering are still haunting Nigerian refugees, even young children like Ibrahim.
Cameroon: High Commissioner Meets Nigerian RefugeesPlay video

Cameroon: High Commissioner Meets Nigerian Refugees

In Minawao camp, Cameroon, Nigerian refugees get a chance to tell their stories to High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres during his visit.
Chad: A Nigerian Child AlonePlay video

Chad: A Nigerian Child Alone

Thousands of refugees have fled militant attacks in Nigeria and sought safety in Chad. They include at least 100 children who have been provided shelter by other families.