From Judex Okoro, Calabar
Community leaders and youths have raised the alarm over the illegal activities of Cameroonian refugees in Cross River State communities.
Top government officials have also decried the influx of Cameroonian refugees into the state, saying it is capable of causing humanitarian crises in host communities.
Statistics obtained from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) showed that over 40,000 Cameroonian refugees have migrated into communities in Etung, Ikom, Boki, Obudu and Ogoja in the central and northern senatorial districts of the state.
Investigations by Daily Sun found that the rising influx of these refugees in the Cross River communities is as a result of the escalation of the Anglophone crisis in Cameroon since 2020, which began in 2016 as a peaceful protest by lawyers and teachers demanding linguistic reforms, and escalated to full-scale violent conflict, creating humanitarian crises, displacing over one million Camerounians and forcing subsequent migration to neigbhouring communities in Nigeria.
These refugees are said to be living in inhuman conditions, even as the UN refugee agency has supported the Cross River State government by distributing goods, food, medicines, tools and farm implements.
This development has raised concerns from some community leaders, who are uncomfortable with the influx of the migrants from Southern Cameroon. The have noted that, besides creating humanitarian crises, the crime rate and other illegal business are on the increase within the host communities.
A community leader in Ikom, Ntufam Joseph Monjok, said they thought that the refugees would only stay for a while and then leave after the crisis in their country normalised but the refugees have come to stay permanently and have no plans of going back to their country soon.
Monjok, 54, who deals in cocoa, said the rate of crime in the community was on the rise following the arrival of the migrants, made up of mostly women and young children who are susceptible to criminal activities.
According to him, the women have adapted and are “engaged in prostitution for survival just as some of them have even got married to our men without proper documentation.”
He affrimed that some of them were already constituting security risks to the state and the nation, as they engage in all sorts of business, legal and illegal, to make ends meet.
Equally complaining about the negative attitude of some refugees in Ogoja, Chief Micheal Ogar said some of the migrants from Cameroun have constituted themselves into a small task force and are now terrorising people at night and are even illegally harvesting crops from people’s farms.
Ogar said, “We have received cases of harassment and assault on our farmers, mostly women, perpetrated by the young refugees and have reported to the security agents in Ogoja, but nothing has come out of it.
“We in Ogoja are getting afraid of the illegal activities of some of these refugees, as some of them have even left the camp located in the Adagom clan and relocated into neigbouring communities, where they have rented houses on their own, as support from the UN is no longer coming.”
A youth leader working with the UN disclosed that the state government and the UN could no longer cater for the refugees in Cross River because of paucity of funds, as more refugees keep pouring into the country than envisaged. He added that the programme was not for a lifetime but temporal.
A community leader from Adagom, who did not want his name on print, said: “The UN was paying each refugee N7,000 initially and supplied them with some food items such rice, garri and beans for over a year. But they stopped as a result of paucity of funds, thereby causing hunger and starvation. So, a good number of them left the camp and went into town, while a few went back to Cameroon.
“But in an attempt to sustain the programme, the UN devised another means by training them in small-scale farming at Adagom. After the training, they allocated small plots and empowered them with crop seedlings such as carrots, tomatoes and okra. But the farm programme was not sustainable and the UN seems to have backed out.
“Presently, there are very few of them now at the camp as some of them have scattered into Bekwarra and Yala and rented their own houses and now live freely with their host communities. But even at that, new refugees are still coming into Ogoja town and those ones are just loitering about. We are appealing for intervention to see how some of them can be tracked down and sent back to their country before they constitute more security risk. So, that is the situation we have found ourselves in with the refugees.”
Also admitting that the stream of refugees, especially from Cameroon has continued to rise, the director-general, Cross River State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), Mr. Princewill Ayim, disclosed that, out of 70,000 refugees in the country, over 38,000 of them are in various settlements in parts of the state.
“The refugees who prefer to leave the settlements, formerly called refugees’ camps, into the communities are free to do so. It is normal. It is also optional. We do not force them against their will. For now, some of the refugees have melted into the borderline of Nigerian communities to fend for themselves.”
Ayim explained that those classified as ‘urban refugees’ are those that do not necessarily need the protection or help of SEMA, UNHCR or the National Committee for Refugees because they are comfortable, running their businesses and are often asylum seekers, adding that “only those that crossed the borders during crises for safety and seeking protection are those they register and extend support.”
Equally decrying the influx of refugees into the state at a workshop on Children of Rural Africa, Nigeria (COR Africa) held at Transcorp Hotel, Calabar, recently, the Cross River State director-general, Migration and Control Agency, Prince Mike Abua, said it was high time the Federal Government and the International Commission for Migrants, Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons conducted a comprehensive survey in the state to ascertained the number of migrants, refugees and persons who had been internally displaced in the state.
Speaking on the topic “Agro-business and Education Opportunities for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced,” Abua said it would be easy for a database to be built to enable government have a full grasp of actual figures of migrants and refugees in Cross River.
He added that the database would also help government to plan ahead of time in terms of infrastructure and facilities that can provide succour to refugees and the internally displaced.
“We have an influx of thousands refugees because of the civil war in Cameroon, it’s overwhelming. This is not something that the state governments alone can handle. We also call on the UNHCR to stand by us by improving upon the good works that they have been doing, and the IOM and other international organizations to provide some funding and intervention. We call for an increase in terms of international funding to provide succour for these persons.”
Speaking during a courtesy visit recently to the Commissioner for International Development Corporation, MIDC, Dr. Iiyang Asibong, in Calabar, the UNHCR head of sub-office, Ogoja, Mr. Tesfaye Bekele, disclosed that there have been challenges of starvation, dislocation and shortage of medication despite support and intervention by government for the displaced persons in the state.
Bekele, who later donated personal protective equipment and other materials to Cross River State in support of the COVID-19 fight in refugee camps through the Commissioner for Health, Dr. Beta Edu, to assist government’s efforts in guaranteeing refugee’s a good health, commended the state government for its commitment toward providing humanitarian services to the migrants.
He promised to work in synergy with the coordinating ministry and other MDAs to deliver their mandate to the people, in line with the vision and mission of the organisation. Some of the items donated were antiseptic, facemasks, gloves, and theatre aprons, among others.