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Amid rising insecurity in Cameroon, senior UN relief official calls for ‘beefed up’ civilian protection

Gado refugee camp in eastern Cameroon, on the border with the Central African Republic (CAR).
OCHA/John James
Gado refugee camp in eastern Cameroon, on the border with the Central African Republic (CAR).

Amid rising insecurity in Cameroon, senior UN relief official calls for ‘beefed up’ civilian protection

Concluding a seven-day visit to Central Africa, the United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs today called international support ‘pivotal’ in preventing further destabilization of the region, particularly Cameroon, where more than two million people are already in need of aid.

“Efforts to ensure security and provide protection to civilians must be beefed up, and aid organizations must be able to secure greater access to populations in need of assistance,” Ms. Kyung-wha Kang reiterated yesterday as the first Summit of Heads of States and Governments of the Economic Community of Central African States convened on regional security in Cameroon’s capital of Yaoundé.

In a statement released on the heels of her travels throughout the country visiting refugee camps and meeting with displaced people, Ms. Kang warned that Cameroon is facing an increasingly complex and multifaceted humanitarian situation: a refugee influx in the east from the conflict in Central African Republic (CAR), a surge of displacements in the northern region due to Boko Haram attacks, repeated cycles of droughts and floods, malnutrition and recurrent epidemics.

Ms. Kang, who is also UN Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, expressed deep concern about the growing impact of attacks by Boko Haram in neighbouring Nigeria and Cameroon which has prompted some 40,000 Nigerians to seek refuge in Cameroon and displacing tens of thousands of Cameroonians. “I am particularly concerned by reports of attacks on villages, kidnapping of civilians, recruitment of young men and indoctrination of children,” she said.

Given these developments, the humanitarian appeal for Cameroon has more than doubled in a year: the 2015 Strategic Response Plan seeks $264 million compared to $126 million in 2014.

Insecurity has also halted economic activity and harvesting in many areas in the far northern region and is impeding humanitarians from accessing the affected people.

During her visit in the country last week, Ms. Kang, travelled to eastern Cameroon, on the border with CAR, where more than 150,000 Central Africans have sought refuge from the violence. She visited the Gado refugee camp, where the majority of refugees are women and children and heard testimonies about the horrors of their months-long journey in the bush to escape violence. Many died of exhaustion, disease or at the hands of armed groups, she recalled.

Earlier in her trip, Ms. Kang also visited several pockets inside CAR with internally displaced persons (IDPs) who were in dire need and unwilling to go back home unless security was assured. She stressed that for Central African IDPs and refugees to feel safe returning to their areas of origin, violence must stop and discrimination against minorities and accountability for violations need to be addressed.

Ms. Kang also called for grass-roots mechanisms to foster reconciliation and mend the sectarian divide that has deepened by the armed conflict that broke out in CAR in December 2013. She reiterated that “enabling women to play a leadership role in their communities is essential to foster reconciliation, recovery and peace.”

Cameroon is also affected by the ongoing food security crisis in the Sahel region which has left more than a million people in need of life-saving food and nutritional assistance. The UN and partners recently launched the Sahel humanitarian appeal for 2015. The appeal is part of a regional multi-year strategy to respond to the chronic challenges in the region.

In Yaoundé, Ms. Kang met with representatives of UN and non-governmental organization (NGO) partners as well as donor representatives, emphasizing that investing in areas such as education and youth employment could contribute to reducing the impact of Boko Haram.