UNHCR Chief appeals for more aid to Cameroon
MINAWAO CAMP, Cameroon, 26 March (UNHCR) - UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres has called for greatly increased humanitarian and development assistance to Cameroon after touring a camp that is hosting tens of thousands of refugees who escaped violence in neighbouring Nigeria.
"Cameroon has demonstrated an enormous generosity opening its borders, its doors and its houses, the hearts of its people, to now more than 350,000 refugees from Nigeria and from the Central African Republic," Guterres said after listening to the experiences of those in Minawao camp in Cameroon's Far North Region on Wednesday.
"But Cameroon is also suffering the impact of a dramatic security situation in the Far North part of the country due to events in Nigeria," he said. The region now hosts an estimated 74,000 Nigerian refugees, of which 42,000 have been verified by UNHCR.
Opened in July 2013, some 90 kilometers from the volatile Cameroon-Nigeria border, Minawao camp now hosts over 33,000 refugees from the conflict in northeastern Nigeria. Guterres was accompanied to the camp by the governor of the semi-arid region, Bakary Midjiyawa, as well as representatives of environmental agencies and the donor community.
"Cameroon is today not only a very important protection space for refugees, but it is in the first line of defense of the international community," Guterres said.
"And so Cameroon needs and deserves a much stronger solidarity, not only from the humanitarian point of view but also from the economic and development point of view," the UNHCR head said.
"I hope the international community will be able to understand these needs and will be able to respond to the enormous generosity of the Cameroonian people."
Refugees told the High Commissioner about suffering direct violence or watching attacks on their loved ones and friends. Others had been kidnapped.
"They attacked my village in Borno State at night; they started to shoot at people and burned the houses," said Mariam, a 30-year-old Nigerian woman. "One of my brothers was shot and died during the attack.
"I escaped the village with my husband and our three children. We walked for 45 minutes towards Cameroon. We stayed in a village at the border, but after some months, they started to attack villages there, so we moved to Minawao camp."
Djumai, 60, told Guterres the insurgents arrived in her village and killed those who refused to convert to the group's ideology. "When they caught my son, they start beating him and torturing him. Then they tied him to wooden boards. That is how he died."
Both women thanked UNHCR for the assistance they are receiving in the camp, though the organization is trying to fill remaining gaps. Access to water remains a serious challenge in Minawao, with limited resources underground.
Twenty-one boreholes and daily water trucks provide 11 litres of water a day per person, which is less than the UNHCR non-emergency standard of 20 liters. But the refugee agency is developing 10 additional boreholes and, together with the authorities, seeking a site for a third refugee camp
The refugee agency is also boosting assistance to internally displaced people. At least 96,000 Cameroonians have been displaced following regular incursions of insurgents from Nigeria. Guterres met with some of them and promised to help.
The High Commissioner stressed it was essential that the international community enhanced its support to refugees and displaced people, and to host communities sharing everything with them.
He appealed for increased donor support, saying current funding levels did not allow for sufficient humanitarian assistance. UNHCR has received only nine percent of the funding needed for the Nigeria situation.
"I understand that the international community is now focused on Syria or on Iraq," said Guterres. "But this is the same kind of problem and it requires the same kind of commitment, the same kind of support from the international community, and we hope that the international community will be able to show it."
Guterres was in Chad on Thursday to learn more about the situation of 18,000 Nigerian refugees who found safety in the Lake Chad area. Most had fled deadly attacks on the town of Baga and its surroundings in early January.
By Helene Caux in Minawao camp