The escalating crisis in Cameroon is fueled in part by ongoing unrest in the English-speaking regions, UN officials said Friday.
An unfolding humanitarian crisis in Cameroon, fueled in part by ongoing unrest in the English-speaking regions, is escalating, said UN officials who issued an appeal Thursday for aid from the international community.
“Hundreds of thousands of people on Cameroon’s territory need urgent assistance and protection,” said Allegra Baiocchi, the UN resident and humanitarian coordinator for Cameroon. “Attacks against civilians have increased and many conflict-affected people are surviving in harsh conditions without humanitarian assistance due to the dramatic underfunding of the response. Cameroon today can no longer be a forgotten crisis. It needs to be high on our agenda.”
She spoke in Geneva, Switzerland, at the launch of the UN’s 2019 Humanitarian Response Plan for Cameroon, a $299 million appeal designed to reach 2.3 million vulnerable people. UN officials estimate that 4.3 million people in Cameroon, or about one-sixth of the population of 24 million people, require lifesaving assistance.
Officials were particularly concerned about raising the funds since the 2018 appeal for $320 million for Cameroon yielded only 40 percent of the goal.
Baiocchi said the ongoing conflict in the country’s Southwest and Northwest regions, home to up to 5 million Anglophones, was “the main driver” behind the increase in need, adding that the unrest there had uprooted 437,000 people from their homes and forced more than 32,000 to flee west to Nigeria.
The English-speaking Northwest and Southwest areas, also known as Southern Cameroons, have exploded in violence over the past two years as the government cracked down on an emerging separatist movement among Anglophones, who have felt marginalized politically and economically for decades, UN officials and experts have said.
Cameroonian government officials have blamed separatists for some of the violence and attacks on civilians, reporting as recently as last week that armed separatists kidnapped more than 30 people on the road between Buea and Kumba in the Southwest Region by attacking buses on the highway.
The victims were released after their money and valuables were taken, officials said.
The strife in the Southwest and Northwest regions occurs as violence plagues the north where Cameroon’s military is trying to defeat Boko Haram, the Islamic State-affiliated terrorist group that has launched many violent attacks in several African countries. Additionally, conflicts in northeastern Nigeria have forced 100,000 people to flee into Cameroon.
On Friday in New York, UN officials said the situation in Cameroon was worsening.
“Well, we’ve been concerned about the periodic violence that’s been happening there,” said Farhan Haq, deputy spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. “Our special adviser there, François Louncény Fall, has, in fact, in recent days, been in Cameroon, where he spoke with several senior officials, including the prime minister of Cameroon, and made clear our various concerns. One of the things we’re hopeful for is that there will be more efforts by the government of Cameroon to have a more constructive and positive relationship with the communities, including the Anglophone communities.”
Supporters of the Anglophones, including Long Island-based Stony Brook University Professor Patrice Nganang, have said their appeals for self-determination have been ignored by President Paul Biya.
The violence has escalated as Biya’s delivered a New Year’s Day message saying that he would eliminate separatists who refuse to lay down their arms.
“I am very sensitive to [the] worries [of residents of the Northwest and Southwest regions] about their safety and their aspirations for a return to calm and normal social life,” he said in a statement. “If my appeal to warmongers to lay down their weapons remains unheeded, the Defense and Security Forces will be instructed to neutralize them. I am well aware of the distress these rebels are causing the populations of these regions. This situation cannot be allowed to continue.”
But Yap Mariatou, Cameroon’s civil protection director , said in a statement with Baiocchi that the government had played a role in quelling the violence.
“The Government of Cameroon is responsible for the protection and well-being of its people and has been at the forefront of the response with its national and international partners,” Mariatou said. “We acknowledge the scale of the different crises we face, and we encourage all the actors to work in close partnership to address the needs of Cameroonians and of the people we host.”
By Zachary R. Dowdy