Refugees from the English-speaking Regions of Cameroon who are living in Nigeria organised a peaceful march yesterday to cry out against poor living conditions characterised by a lack of food and healthcare.
The Cameroonians living at Adagom 1 refugee camp in Cross River State, Nigeria, say they have been neglected by humanitarian bodies, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which used to meet their basic needs, a source at the refugee camp told MMI.
Videos MMI obtained show the refugees in a peaceful march, decrying the lack of several basic necessities such as health facilities, shelter, and food, among others, for the past four months.
They also said Nigerian authorities have made things worse for some of them by restricting them from leaving the camp or engaging in petty business activities.
“No access to health facilities, shelter, logistics, or freedom of movement; our children are not going to school because they are not registered, and they don’t have fax sheets; sexual harassment is very common with female newly arrived refugees,” one of the refugees told MMI.
He furthered that living conditions at the camp have grown more unfavourable in the last four months because UNHRC workers no longer consider them an emergency case. Incoming refugees say their registration and integration process is being delayed unnecessarily.
More than 22,000 Cameroonian refugees in Nigeria were unregistered as of April 2023, a UNHCR report published in June stated. Registration means refugees will have a refugee card that gives them a level of freedom in Nigerian society, including the right to start small businesses.
“They don’t want to register us. They are saying Cameroon is no more a state of emergency because they have not addressed or recognised the new arrivals,” said one of the refugees.
Data from the UNHCR states that the total number of registered Cameroonian refugees in Nigeria stands at 86,288 as of April this year.
Most of the refugees are registered in Cross River, Taraba, Benue, and Akwa Ibom States, where they struggle to meet their basic needs.
In the videos that MMI obtained, the refugees at Adagom 1 could be seen carrying posters on which were written: “We need freedom of movement”; “UNHCR we need access to health care” and “UNHCR our children need to eat”.
The UNHCR says the influx of more Cameroonian refugees into Nigeria this year has worsened an already complicated humanitarian situation. Most of them are coming from the two English-speaking regions of the country, where a six-year armed conflict has displaced hundreds of thousands.
“Cameroonian refugees are predominantly from the North-West and South-West regions of Cameroon, affected by the conflict between the government and activists calling for the secession of these Anglophone regions. The arrival of Cameroonian refugees in Nigeria has since presented a new dimension to the already complex humanitarian situation in Nigeria,” the UNHCR report said.
Aside from the need for food, the refugees are also demanding freedom of movement and a chance to carry out small businesses to sustain themselves and their families.
“We need access to health. Our children need to go to school. Freedom of movement. Our girls need to be protected against sexual exploitation and abuse (raping). We need shelter. We need logistics,” one of the refugees told MMI.
Freedom of movement for newcomers was made more complicated after Nigerian military officers who visited the Adagom 1 refugee camp warned them not to do Point Of Sale (POS), or cash transfer (momo) businesses, one of the refugees said.
The officers said this was because they had not been registered.
The refugees are asking the UNHCR and other humanitarian bodies to help fast-track the registration of incoming refugees. The number of newcomers has been fluctuating.