Recent attacks by insurgent groups in north-east Nigeria have prompted thousands of people to seek refuge in Cameroon over the past 10 days, with some sleeping in schools and churches, and children suffering from poor health, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported today.
“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,” the agency’s spokesman, Adrian Edwards, told journalists in Geneva.
Local authorities say that in the last 10 days, at least 9,000 people have arrived in Cameroon’s Far North Region and more than 2,000 have sought refuge in Lake Chad islands belonging to Niger, while 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 after arrival in Cameroon, they are not necessarily out of harm’s way, according to UNHCR. On Sunday, insurgents attacked Kerawa town in 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 weekend, where we met the new arrivals living in churches and schools and with host families,” Mr. Edwards said.
The refugees said everyone had fled and that their villages in north-east Nigeria were now empty. Immediate assistance has been provided by the authorities, NGO Caritas, UNHCR and the host community.
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.
The agency noted that 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 panic after insurgents slit the throats of three people in a church in Assighassia.
The attackers also burnt down police and 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 Cameroonian territory.
Niger is hosting more than 50,000 forcibly displaced people who have arrived from Nigeria since May 2013. Inside Nigeria, some 645,000 people are displaced in Adamawa, Borno, and Yobe states, as a result of the violence.