The United Nations refugee agency today expressed concern about the escalating violence in and around Nigeria and its impact on the situation of Nigerian refugees in surrounding host countries, including a shrinking humanitarian space in which they can seek asylum.
“We salute the generosity and humanitarian spirit of Cameroon, Chad and Niger in opening their doors to tens of thousands of people fleeing conflict in their home areas in north-east Nigeria over the past two years,” stated the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in a press release.
Sharing these countries’ commitment to ensuring the safety and protection of the refugees while at the same time ensuring the security of their own citizens and border areas, UNHCR has, for example, encouraged refugees to move away from front line border areas to camps deeper inland, where they can receive aid and protection.
But amid the fluid military situation in border areas since Nigerian militants widened their campaign earlier this year, thousands of people have been deported or returned to Nigeria from Cameroon and Chad in July and August.
These include 925 Nigerians sent home from Cameroon and Chad from July 9 to 11 and 50 Nigerians being screened by UNHCR at the Gourounguel transit camp on August 3, stressed the press release.
Unaware at this time if they include refugees who may have gone back involuntarily, the agency has been in contact with the relevant governments, expressing concern at the way these returns were conducted.
“UNHCR fears that such deportations lead to shrinking of the protection and humanitarian space and the agency reminds governments of their duty to protect asylum-seekers fleeing human rights violations and to respect the principle of non-refoulement (non-return).”
The Office of the High Commissioner reiterated that principles and international standards should be respected, even in the face of serious security concerns, including the right to apply for asylum and the need for joint screening with UNHCR for people in need of international protection, as well as evacuation for those willing to go back after making an informed decision about the situation in areas of return.
Encouraged by the assurances given by Cameroon to take the necessary measures to comply with international standards, UNHCR added that it will continue to monitor the situation of refugees and returnees, while noting that protection and humanitarian assistance for returnees is becoming “increasingly difficult” due to security and access difficulties.