UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, has learned with great concern of the forced return by Nigeria of 47 Cameroonians, who were handed over to the Cameroonian authorities on 26 January 2018.
Most of the individuals in question had submitted asylum claims. Their forcible return is in violation of the principle of non-refoulement, which constitutes the cornerstone of international refugee law.
The returns were carried out despite UNHCR’s efforts and engagement with the authorities.
UNHCR reminds Nigeria of its obligations under international and Nigerian law, and urges the Nigerian Government to refrain from forcible returns of Cameroonian asylum-seekers back to their country of origin.
We also urge the Government of Cameroon to ensure that the group is treated in accordance with human rights law and standards.
The Central African country of Cameroon—whose tourist slogan for years was “all of Africa in one country”—presents itself as a unifier of diverse environments, languages, and culture in this nation located in the middle of the continent. The last weeks in Cameroon, however, suggest the worst of conflict, corruption, and colonialism, primarily relating to the country’s intensifying repression against the English-speaking minority in the region of Ambazonia, little-known even to Africanists and anti-colonial academics from the Global North. Despite the efforts of Ambazonian scholars based in the U.S., and a trickle of not-always-helpful information from Amnesty International and the BBC, the escalation of military violence over the past few months, and especially a new “scorched earth” burning of entire villages since last May and several massacres in the first half of July, have gone largely unnoticed even by human rights experts.
On the evening of July 11, 2018, five students were separated during a round-up by government military forces at the University Center in the town of Bambilli, allegedly for not having identification cards. Bambilli is a college town north in the Ambazonian territory. Though BBC reported on the incident, they did not make the connection to the pattern of attacks on Ambazonian students, activists, and community leaders which have worsened over the past year. Three days later, ten more unarmed Ambazonians and one Ghanaian pastor who was working with them were slaughtered in the town of Batibo.
Though this news may never have surfaced if not for the connection to clergy in Ghana, organizations such as the Network for Human Rights Defenders in Central Africa have begun to analyze, document, and report on these incidents. Several Pan-African groups, including affiliates of the prominent Network of African National Human Rights Institutions (which share a collegial relationship with the Pan African Nonviolence and Peace-building Network), have raised growing concerns about military-perpetrated, government-instigated violence in the area which makes up the southern border of Cameroon and Nigeria.
Nonviolence has always been the strategy and philosophy of choice there, with the decades-long freedom slogan focusing on the logic of Ambazonia freedom, by “the force of argument, not the argument of force.” In1961, the United Nations Trust Territory of Southern Cameroons voted for full independence from colonial Great Britain, and neighboring Francophone Cameroon quickly incorporated the territory into its own “United Republic” of Cameroon. Since that time, a mass, unarmed civil resistance movement has declared its desire for full independence, given its distinct languages (English and Indigenous African), culture, history, and geographic base. In 1984, when Cameroon President Paul Biya removed the “United” from the official name of the country, an even more intense crisis ensued. “All this time, however, from the 1960s until 2017,” noted Eben, U.S. facilitator of the Ambazonian Prisoners of Conscience Support Network, “barely a single stone was thrown as part of our resistance. Armed resistance was never a tactic we engaged in.
Following a series of lawyer-led uprisings which began on October 1, 2016, escalating nonviolent civil resistance, and a massive general strike in September 2017—met with gunfire from Cameroon government helicopter gunships—some Ambazonians did initiate an armed struggle on October 1, 2017, declaring independence and setting up a government in exile. Cooperation between the governments of Nigeria and Cameroon might play a negative role in the aspirations of Ambazonians, as Nigeria handed over some who were taking refuge there, and who now make up a growing political-prisoner population in Cameroon.
Nigeria’s inability to resolve their “Boko Haram problem”—the Islamist fundamentalist-military movement with close ties to Iraq—also plays a role. Nigeria can push Boko Haram forces across the border into Cameroon, and Cameroon in turn attacks both Boko Haram military units and Ambazonian independence activists as if they represented the same “nuisance” to the common people. It is the ordinary civilian, however, who is most caught between governments, militaries, and borders. A horrifying video of Cameroon soldiers murdering two women, a young child, and a baby—apparently in mid-July and because their families allegedly had ties to Boko Haram—has begun to go viral and gain the condemnation of Amnesty International. In an eerie flash-back to words uttered fifty years ago in Vietnam at the heinous My Lai massacre, one soldier can be heard asking his commanding officer: “Are we going to kill the children too?”
Ironically, Amnesty—widely seen as the unquestioned expert on human rights in the region—has been slow and significantly misguided in reporting the facts of events in the region. An incredibly detailed and well-documented critique of the June 2018 Amnesty International report on “Anglophone Cameroon” spotlights ways in which the respected organization has misunderstood and distorted the reality of Ambazonian life and struggle. The popular refrain that there “is violence on both sides” not only gives too much emphasis to a very limited armed struggle, dismissing the decades of previous history, it also ignores the fact that the last two years have seen a sharp increase in the breadth and scope of nonviolent civic engagement on the part of Ambazonians, both in the territory and in diaspora. An entire network of home-front media producers has congealed around a Southern Cameroon TV project, dozens of diaspora organizations have formed and successfully pressed for attention from local and national politicians, the Southern Cameroons Congress of the People was formed as a political party, and a veritable social media army has begun to link refugees, political prisoners and their supporters, home front organizers, and those living abroad.
Independent internationalists might be especially confused by the July 19, 2018 briefings and commentaries issued by Human Rights Watch (HRW). On the one hand, their poignant report “These Killings Can Be Stopped” recounts in 59 detailed pages how the area “is slipping into a protracted human rights crisis in the largely Anglophone North-West and South-West regions that border Nigeria.” It documents how, for the past two years or so, the Cameroon government has responded to demonstrations, legal challenges, and unarmed protests with “heavy clamp-downs,” “repression and arrest,” and “abuse” which likely caused a radicalization on the part of the Ambazonian freedom movement.
On the other hand, in HRW’s summary press release sent out the same day, “Cameroon: Killings, Destruction in Anglophone Region,” they misleadingly and inaccurately assert that “in response to protests and violence by armed separatists, government forces have killed civilians, used excessive force against demonstrators, tortured and mistreated suspected separatists and detainees, and burned hundreds of homes in several villages.” Want to find evidence that the HRW summary press release is inaccurate? Read the HRW full report! The poor attempt to be “even-handed” tragically dilutes HRW’s basic good point: these killings can and must be stopped—by support for justice-seeking nonviolent campaigners and a condemnation of government-based military violence and oppression.
The crisis in Ambazonia—like so many anti-colonial crises that seem to be escalating in this age of neocolonialism—cannot easily be resolved, especially by traditional military or diplomatic means. As grassroots women’s and social groups inside the country and supporters or allies in the Diaspora continue to put pressure on the colonial regime, unarmed civil resistance is the best hope for lasting change. But change cannot take place without clear, pro-justice, international attention and support—which so far has been sadly lacking.
Ongoing violence in the Southwest and Northwest Regions of Cameroon continues. A refugee crisis threatens. The United Nations (UN) refugee agency reported more than 32 000 Cameroonians crossed into Nigeria as refugees. The Daily Vox team takes a closer look.
Cameroon Refugee Crisis
The United Nations and Doctors Without Borders (MSF) have reported that intensified violence has led displacement. There has been a displacement of more than 437 500 people within Cameroon. More people fled into Nigeria where they are staying in refugee camps in Cross River State.
The UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) built a refugee settlement in August 2018. By December 2018 it held more than 6 400 refugees.
In a report compiled by MSF, they spoke to refugees in the camp. Lydia Ochin from Akwaya, Cameroon said: “I escaped from my country in October 2017. I have lived with my family, my husband, and my children, in Adagom refugee camp since August 2018. Life in the camp is not easy. I live here with my husband, who is sick with tuberculosis, and my children. Eight people living inside a small tent. Now that my health is getting better, the biggest challenge is food. We do not have money to buy food on our own and all we eat is the rice that is given to us.”
In the area, the MSF Cross River project operates six mobile clinics for the host and refugee community. The organisation dug boreholes and repaired handpumps to provide water for the communities.
Civil society response
In February 2019, faith and civil society organisations like the International Fellowship of Reconciliation and the Denis Hurley Peace Institute will deliver a letter to the 40th session of the UNHCR. The letter demands UN members states investigate allegations of human rights violations in Ambazonia. At the same when the letter is delivered to the UN, press briefings are to be held in Geneva, New York, and Johannesburg.
There are daily reports on social media about alleged violence in the region. “The UN HRC has the power to cultivate the conditions for peace,” said the Rev. Dr. Emma Jordan-Simpson of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation. “We strongly believe that a UN HRC-mandated fact-finding mission would have the immediate effect of quelling violence and saving lives.”
What has been happening
Conflict in Cameroon stemming from the calls for independence in South Cameroons began in 2016. The people of Southern Cameroon (Ambazonia) have demanded the right to determine whether they want to remain in a union with Cameroon or restore the independence of Southern Cameroons as a sovereign state.
Those calls led to a violent crackdown by President Paul Biya’s Francophone government on the Anglophone population of Southern Cameroon. In 2017 there was an internet shutdown to prevent mass mobilisations against the government and many people were killed by the security forces during protests. There were arbitrary arrests with people detained in already overflowing jails.
Biya won his seventh term in October 2018. The elections were marred by low turnout, especially in the Anglophone zones. He has been in power since 1982. The constitution was changed in 2008 which removed term limits which would allow him to rule for even longer.
During a 2017 march by the Southern Cameroons community living in South Africa, Milton Taka, a spokesperson for the Southern Cameroons Ambazonia Consortium United Front said: “Only the Ambazonian flag will fly all over our land. Our people are taking their power back. From today we declare self-rule. Self-determination is an inalienable right and nobody will take that from us.”
Increased humanitarian crisis
There have been all around calls for an increase in attention for Cameroon. Both the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator to Cameroon, Ms. Allegra Baiocchi, and Cameroon’s Civil Protection Director, Ms. Yap Mariatou warned about the increased need for humanitarian assistance due to the Francophone-Anglophone conflict.
“Cameroon today can no longer be a forgotten crisis; it needs to be high on the United Nations agenda” Mariatou said. The UN estimates that around 4.3 million people in Cameroon requires lifesaving assistance. This is one in six people and mostly women and children.
Refugee crisis: Nigeria
There has been a cross fleeing of people. Nigerian people fleeing to Cameroon from the northern Borno state it’s been reported in January 2019. They are fleeing increasing Boko Haram militant attacks. Reportedly there was a displacement of 30 000 people after a deadly attack that happened on January 14. There have been calls for the Cameroonian government to accept the refugees into the country. This all happens against the backdrop of the violence the Cameroonian government in enacting against its Anglophone-speaking citizens.
The Federal High Court in Abuja, Nigeria will pass a ruling on April 15 in the matter filed by lawyers against what the term illegal deportation of the Ambazonia leaders from Nigeria to Cameroon.
The court finally opened hearing in Abuja today which was an opportunity for lawyers to presnt their case as they insist the leaders were illegally arrested and deported to Cameroon.
The lawyers told the court that for justice to take its course, the Ambazonia leaders have to be returned to Nigeria where they were arrested given the fact that both countries don’t have any extradition treaty.
But before April, the Ambazonia leaders will have to prove their nationality at the Yaounde military tribunal on February 7.
The Federal High Court in Abuja, Nigeria has today opened a hearing between the ten Ambazonia leaders and the government of Cameroon.
Lawyers of the detained Ambazonia leaders seized the court to order their return to Nigeria where they were arrested a year ago and extradited to Cameroon
The lawyers say their clients are not Cameroonians and should be returned to Nigeria, their place of residence where their matter can be heard in a civil court.
Thus lead counsels Barristers Fru John Nsoh and Ndong Christopher are in Nigeria where they have joined their Nigerian counterparts Femi Falana and Abdul Oroh to plead their case.
In Nigeria, they will equally be seeking to prepare documentation to prove the detained leaders have refugee status when they arrested in Nigeria.
The detained leaders had rejected the Cameroonian nationality at the Yaoundé military tribunal during the last hearing forcing the court to adjourn the case to February 7 when they are expected to show prove of their status.
A ray of hope shone for widows and refugees of Ambazonian extraction when Belinda Babila Foundation reached out to them at a refugee camp located in Ogoja, Cross Rivers State during the Yuletide season.
Founder of the foundation, Dr. Belinda Babila said it was a very touching experience to reach out to the widows.
“Speaking to the refugees one-on-one was quite touching. We visited the Cameroonian refugees at the Adagom Settlement in Ogoja LGA, Cross Rivers State, and we had a three-day empowerment outreach”, she noted.
According to the US-based philanthropist, “we are planning self-sustenance empowerment programmes for the over 8000 refugees. I am most grateful to all the donors and partners who contributed towards the just concluded refugees outreach campaign at Adagom Settlement in Ogoja, Nigeria. However, funding is one of our major challenges.”
Among others, over 200 patients got referrals for further evaluation while school uniforms were handed to school children.
Hygiene packs were also handed out to teenagers. A huge quantity of medical supplies was donated by Rhemacare Clinic.
Ambazonia is a self-declared state consisting of the Anglophone portions of Cameroon, which previously comprised South Camerouns.
In 2017, the Southern Cameroons Ambazonia Consortium United Front (SCACUF) declared independence but the Cameroonian government stated that the declaration has no legal weight and this has culminated in a refugee crisis that has displaced thousands of Ambazonians.
What began as a civil protest by some disgruntled English-speaking lawyers, teachers, and students from Southern Cameroons, against the marginalization of the French-speaking majority in 2016, is now gradually degenerating into a brutal civil war. Since President Paul Biya declared war on the secessionists after they attacked and killed two policemen in 2017, villages have been burnt down, thousands of people have fled their homes and more than 40,000 have fled to Nigeria as refugees according to the United Nations. In fact, there are even allegations of genocide in the region.
In the light of this situation as well as the following reasons, Nigeria has a duty to rescue the Southern Cameroonians from the claws of Paul Biya before he sends them into geographic extinction.
First, Southern Cameroonians were formerly Nigerians until the plebiscite of 1961 allowed them to join Cameroon. Despite this, they have been grossly marginalized and treated as minorities by the Francophone government in Yaounde. Hence, the reason for their agitation. There is nothing wrong if Nigeria supports Southern Cameroons in their quest for freedom since they share historical and cultural relationships.
Second, if Nigeria does not help Southern Cameroons broker peace, the spillover effects of a potential civil war will definitely affect the former. Currently, over 40,000 Cameroonian refugees are in Nigeria. The number may increase if Nigeria keeps folding her hands and watch as the Biya led government continues to lay siege on Southern Cameroons.
Third, if not anything but good neighbourliness. Africa has always been the centrepiece of Nigerian foreign policy. Since Nigeria became independent, she has helped many African countries through her good neighbourliness policy.
The anti-apartheid black movement in South Africa readily comes to mind as one of the examples of Nigeria good neighbourliness gesture. Hence, Nigeria must extend this gesture towards the Southern Cameroonians, especially as they were formerly Nigerians.
Fourth, Nigeria stands a chance of reclaiming the Bakassi Peninsula if she supports Southern Cameroons. On August 14, 2008, Nigeria handed over the Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroon after the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled in the latter’s favour. Before then, Nigeria and Cameroon had disputed over the ownership of the land. If Nigeria helps Southern Cameroon actualize her independence dream, she can revisit the Green Tree Agreement.
Fifth, genocide and state-sponsored terrorism are not acceptable in the post-Westphalia order. From reports, it is as if the war against secessionists has turned out to be a genocide and state-sponsored terrorism against the Anglophone Cameroonians, given how villages have been burnt down, and how about 160,000 thousands of people have been displaced from their homes.
If this is the case, the post-Westphalia order strictly forbids state-sponsored terrorism and genocide in Southern Cameroons and elsewhere. In fact, they could be strong reasons for the superpowers to invade Cameroon. But while it is as if the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) is asleep over the conflict, Nigeria can assist Southern Cameroons on humanitarian grounds. No country will chide Nigeria for this, knowing full well that the post-Westphalia order prioritizes humanitarian concern over a country’s sovereignty.
Nigeria will be the one to bear the brunt at the end of the day if war erupts in Cameroon. The number of refugees that she would have to host both in the south and north is unimaginable, a big threat to her security and resources. In order to avoid this, she must act fast either through the initiation of dialogue or openly declare support for Southern Cameroons.
The Embassy of the United States of America in Cameroon has once again warned its citizens to avoid the troubled English-speaking regions of the country where security forces have been clashing with armed separatist fighters.
The conflict that has left several persons internally displaces and many fleeing to neighboring Nigeria as many persons have equally lost their lives.
“The level of violence in the Southwest and Northwest Regions continues to increase. In recent weeks, U.S. citizens have been the victims of violent crimes in both regions. Due to the violence, many medical facilities in these areas are reported to be closed, inaccessible, or severely understaffed,” the US Embassy said in a statement.
“All but mission-essential travel by U.S. Embassy personnel to these regions is prohibited: our ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in these areas is extremely limited,” the statement added.
The US Embassy in Cameroon had equally cautioned its citizens to take various security measures when moving around in the capital Yaounde following news of waves of mass arrests conducted by security forces.
Over 30,000 Southern Cameroonians are currently in asylum in Nigeria — they are located in Cross River, Benue and Taraba states. Many more are still coming as the government of President Paul Biya clamps down on Southern Cameroon dissidents who are agitating for Ambazonia Republic. In Nigeria where those who fled the country are seeking asylum, they have not found solace as they live in constant fear of arrest, extortion and deportation as revealed in this report.
Living on the edge
AKUME Joshua has mixed feelings about the safety of his family in Nigeria despite running away from President Paul Biya’s troops on December 18, 2017.
In Calabar, Cross River State where he lives in the asylum with his wife and son, the fear of an imminent arrest and repatriation to Cameroon hunts him every night. A supermarket owner back in Southern Cameroon, Joshua lost his grocery store to the crisis and now go for a scrounge in Nigeria.
Since October 1, 2017, when fighting broke out in the Anglophone Cameroon, where the English speaking minority declared independence from Francophone Cameroon, under the name Ambazonia Republic, more and more Southern Cameroonians have fled the country, seeking asylum in Nigeria.
Roughly 20 per cent of the country’s population of 24.6 million people are Anglophone.
Attacks and raids on villages in Southern Cameroon by government armies have intensified since after election when 85-year-old President Paul Biya won another re-election—his seventh term in office.
There has been an air of uncertainty among the people. On June 10, when refugees filed out for food distribution at Cross River State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) office in Calabar, a letter from the Cameroon Consular addressed the director general of the agency asking that the refugees be arrested because they are not refugees but terrorists, and should be arrested and send back to Cameroon. “When this information got to us we were afraid, there was panic among us,” he says.
This has kept Joshua and his countrymen in constant fear. The matter became worse when Nigerian security operatives restricted the movement of refugees within the country despite an Identity Card issued by the National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons.
Refugees, he says, are now veritable means of extortion for the security operatives.
“Freedom of movement of refugees has been a problem- we can’t move from town to town freely. Even with your yellow card, certificate of asylum issued by the National Commission for Refugees they still stop them and tell them that they are not supposed to move within the country. Most time they extort money from them – sometimes, people pay as much as N30, 000,” he says.
A Protection Officer at UNHCR office in Calabar who admitted there have been reports of such arrests and extortion says that the agency is holding series of meetings with the police authorities, Immigration and the Nigerian Army “so that they can recognize the ID card issued by the Refugee Commission.”
“I just had a meeting with the State Commissioner of Police on those matters and we are also working with the Immigration and the Army over it,” he said.
The allegation is not a one-off experience—seven Southern Cameroonians who just escaped into Calabar were arrested by men of 13 Brigade of Nigerian Army. But for the intervention of the Refugee Agency they were released, Joshua said.
He says the seven were suspected to be Anglophone combatants, “because of their dressings.”
“The clothes they wearing were not very clean because they had travelled the bush for fear. When they got here, they didn’t have any other dress to change, they were looking dirty and they came in a group, so they thought they were combatant.”
Also, they allege that men of Nigerian Immigration Service also declined to recognize the Identity Card issued by the Refugee Commission.
“The Immigration intimidates us most often, they claim not to recognize us, sometimes we have to call the UNHCR staff,” Ako Albor, Vice Chairman of Southern Cameroonian Refugees in Adagom Refugees Resettlement, Ogoja Local Government says.
But the refugees are unhappy that their plights have not received the attention it deserved from the international community and the media. Quite frankly too, talks about the crisis between Francophone and Anglophone Cameroons that has displaced more than 160,000 within Cameroon since 2016 have not gained prominence among world leaders.
Albor, a French- English Translator from Manyu Division of Southern Cameroon wonders why “nobody in the international community is talking about their plights.”
“I think Paul Biya has a very strong Mafia among the AU and they are doing everything in his favour.”
According to him, the recent victory of Paul Biya in the general election dashed their hope of any quick resolution of the crisis.
“We thought the opposition would win the election because that would have offered some hope of dialogue and perhaps a settlement.”
The return of Biya has led to more clamp down in the country− his immediate actions show that he is not working towards any immediate resolution, Albor says.
“Last night, a journalist was arrested and those that are in detention, we don’t know what he plans to do with them.”
As the world keeps mum about the crisis, international media also appears to be looking the other side from the civil war. Ignatius Mezam, a teacher in Southern Cameroon laments that international media such as the Cable Network News (CNN) and Aljazeera have not given their crisis the required attention.
“When you look at other revolutions going on across the world, they are prominent in the news, but you don’t hear about Southern Cameroon issue,” Mezam says.
“The CNN, Aljazeera have not given it prominence in their reportage, is it because we are black. The battle is only fought on the Facebook by Facebook warriors.”
Over 30,000 Southern Cameroonians currently in Nigeria- figures still growing
On a daily basis, the population of Southern Cameroonian refugees in Nigeria keeps increasing, Tunde Akinsanya, Calabar Zonal Director, National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Person revealed.
The Commission registers refugees and issues them Identity Card, Onasanya says, and “the refugees keep coming as the crisis continues.”
Many more are running away from their homes as government forces keep arresting dissidents and setting villages ablaze especially after the election.
Data obtained from the office of UNHCR revealed that there were 23,620 refugees as of October 31 in Cross River State. Of these figures, 10,386 of them were male while 13,234 were female. While there were 333 births since January, the number of children among the refugees stood at 11,514.
By the middle of October, there were about 28,000 of the refugees registered by the Nigerian National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons.
However, as of early November, a top staff of the UNHCR who would not want his name mentioned revealed that the figured has gone up to 30,000.
Of the over 30,000 refugees, 5000 of them are currently at Adag0m Settlement in Ogoja and over 60 per cent of them are of school-age children- many of the children are those separated and unaccompanied. Those identified are kept with foster parents in the settlement, a UNHCR says.
“We have close to 28,000 registered refugees,” an official of the Nigerian Refugee Commission said, “but the registration is ongoing if we give you a figure today it may increase tomorrow.”
“This is not necessarily the true reflection of incoming, they are still coming. There are some who do come and do not report here but just settle in the nearby village,” says the official who also pleaded for anonymity.
We have been receiving people in terms of surge of refugees who keep coming to Nigeria, says a UNHCR Protection Officer in Calabar, the capital city of Cross River State.
When will this end? Osany Juliet has been living in perpetual depression since gendarmes in 2017 killed her father and arrested her husband — he is kept in a prison in Buea, Cameroon.
October 7, 2017 —exactly 3 pm, a helicopter loaded with government troops landed in Daddi village in Akwaya, Manyu division, everyone in sight was shot at and killed, recalls Juliet, a mother of two.
Some days, she wonders if she will ever see her husband again, or if her life will ever remain the same without him. “Right now, I don’t know how he is doing, I know that the situation with him is not an easy one,” she says with wet eyes.
“My husband was arrested by the gendarmes on his way from the farm because he didn’t know what was happening in the village.”
On other days, she feels terrified by the memories of what has happened in her village and again, the recurring fears that the government may come after those of them under asylum in Nigeria
She is in Calabar where she hopes that life can again be better for her— though Juliet admits coping has been somewhat herculean with two kids and an elderly mother to cater for.
“Please if there is any way you can help me, please you do,” she appealed to the reporter.
Like Juliet, life is becoming more hopeless for Abunaw Lucy and her four kids. A look of anguish sweeps across her face at the thought of the fate of her husband whose whereabouts is unknown after he escaped arrest by government troops on June 9, 2017.
After two arrests and two detentions with her six-week-old baby, she escaped through a forest to Nigeria via Ikom, Cross River State.
Each time she was detained, Lucy spent between five and 10 hours in detention for two days when her husband could not be located. “I was arrested and detained for two days,” she says, “I wasn’t thrown into the cell because of the baby,” “I was kept on the veranda for two days under harsh conditions.”
Her baby ended up with a respiratory infection after those two days spent at the military detention facility. The couples and their children were living in Manfe, in Manyu, South West Region, but Abunaw David, was on the targets list of the government for his involvement in the struggle for independence.
David was the spokesperson for Justice Ayah Paul Abine− a presidential candidate of the opposition party, People’s Action Party in 2011−arrested January 21, 2017, by gendarmes on an allegation of hostility against the nation.
But the mother of four is still uncomfortable despite being in Nigeria because, according to many Southern Cameroonian refugees, the Cameroonian Consular in Nigeria has designated them terrorists who should be handed over to the Cameroonian authority. There are claims of arbitrary arrests of refugees by Cameroonian forces. Every day, she wakes up with the fear of a possible arrest and extradition by Cameroonian government.
“I’m still afraid to attend meetings or interact for a long time and the fact that Cameroon Consular office is in Calabar which I know and convinced they are working with Cameroon government scares me more.”
“They may be sending spies to monitor refugees’ movement and activities so that they can arrest and extradite us,” she says as her voices cracks with fear.
Tears and hopelessnessAfter sleeping on a mat throughout the period of her pregnancy, 23-year-old Ata Jennifer − a Southern Cameroonian − finally gave birth to a healthy baby boy sometime mid-October at a hospital in Ogoja Local Government. “I slept on the mat until I gave birth,” she says.
With a three-week-old baby in a Refugee Settlement in Adagom, Ogoja and among 5,000 Southern Cameroonians being settled at the camp −the crisis back home casts a bleak shadow over her future and that of her newborn.
For her, it was by providence that she gave birth to a healthy baby without complications− at the moment, most pregnant women among the refugees did not have access to an ante-natal clinic during pregnancy –and living conditions at the settlement made the prospect of any easy delivery doubtful.
But Jennifer was lucky; she and her baby are healthy, though help from the United Agency for Refugee, UNHCR did not get to her when she was in labour pains and eventually delivered of a baby at a hospital.
She couldn’t get a mattress from the agency, because, “mattress is given based on the family size,” an official of the UNHCR said. “It’s one mattress per a family of five and below, the rest are mats.”
With her baby and her younger sister, she shares a tent furnished with a mat and a blanket. Her shelter is among the 140 just constructed by UNHCR.
The young mother was writing a final Advanced Level examination to proceed to the university when she and her family fled their home.
After a perilous journey through forest and river, Jennifer in early stage pregnancy made it to Nigeria on November 17, 2017 – her father was not so lucky— he died in the forest of shock — the second day of their escape from home. With the help of fishermen, she alongside her mother and sister sailed safely to Nigeria. “It was very critical running with pregnancy, but I had to manage because there was no option,” she said of her ordeals running to Nigeria particularly with pregnancy.
“We had to run to the bush at that night. We slept there that night. Four of us, my father, mum and my sister- it was heavily raining. The next day we tried running to cross the border area but we could not make it. I was pregnant then. The next day, I lost my father.”
Suckling her three-week-old son in front of a temporary shelter provided by the UNHCR, Jennifer speaks of how her father was declared wanted by the Biya-led government and how critical it was for her running with pregnancy from the gendarmes.
At Umojok in Southern Cameroon, her father was accused by the Francophone Cameroonian government of fortifying young boys with a local gun proof called “Odeshi.”
Amidst sobs, she says the accusation against her late father was unfounded.
“Odeshi is a secret cult whereby boys put marks on their body, it is called gun proof. That was what I heard which was a lie; my father did not do such a thing,” the 23-year-old Jennifer said.
For her and her baby, surviving in a refugee camp has been very challenging. Often, passersby offer her money to eat and take care of her baby because the relief package from the Refugee Agency did not get to her.
At Adagom, there were 15 deliveries in the last two months, but some of the babies died, during after delivery due to poor health care services at the settlement, says Albor who lives at the settlement.
There are other new arrivals who are pregnant and without tents yet. “They sleep in the hall and they eventually deliver, we have some cases of them. They are forced to sleep on the floor together with their newborn babies,”Albor says.
Birthrate at the settlement is overwhelming the refugee Agency−it has stopped distribution of baby kits to nursing mothers because there is a shortfall in the supply. The leadership of the refugees revealed that the Agency no longer distribute baby needs to nursing mothers in the settlement.
“When a woman is pregnant, they no longer care to say take these baby kits, not even one single thing.”
“It’s something I cannot actually explain, but when we questioned them, they said, the provision is not there and sometimes, they said the birth rate is too high, they don’t encourage such situation within the settlement.”
Save the children, an organization that focuses on child Protection, child poverty, education, health (WASH) & nutrition), was involved in the provision of baby kits for pregnant women and nursing mothers among the refugees−but has not resumed such gesture since refugees moved to Adagan Settlement in Ogoja. What was provided by the Southern Cameroonians in the Diaspora at the inception of the settlement is also exhausted.