…Says another emergency imminent
From Timothy Olanrewaju, Maiduguri
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has said it’s worried about possible emergencies the forceful return of 80,000 Nigerian refugees from Cameroon could create. It warned that the return could heighten the humanitarian challenges in the volatile Northeast states.
Thousands of Nigerians who fled their homes in Borno State in the wake of Boko Haram violence in 2014 took refuge in neighbouring Republic of Cameroon. The development prompted series of diplomatic and security meetings between the Nigerian government and her Cameroon counterpart, leading to a tripartite agreement for voluntary repatriation of Nigerian refugees living in Cameroon as soon as the security situation in the North-east improves.
But the UN refugee agency said Cameroon appeared to have reneged on the tripartite agreement signed by the two countries in Yaounde, Cameroon capital on March 2, 2017.
Nearly 15, 000 Nigerian refugees in Cameroon have voluntarily returned to their communities in Borno, according to Borno State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA).
A 2017 Global Report on Internal Displacement put the figure of displaced persons in Nigeria (mostly Northeast) at over 2.5 million out of the total 55 million displaced across the world.
UNHCR Regional Representative, Liz Ahua, at a high level meeting with other humanitarian agencies and emergency managers, in Maiduguri, said the agency was worried about the level of preparation to receive the returnees from Cameroon and attend to their humanitarian needs.
“Our concern is that the return of refugees should not create another emergency, but, we are now confronted with the challenges of returnees becoming internally displaced persons again having lived temporarily in another nation for months with all the discomfort,” Ahua said.
She said the UNHCR organised the roundtable with all humanitarian partners to discuss ways of resolving or addressing challenges the refugees may face upon their return including shelter, water and sanitation, among others. “The need to put together resources to handle the safety and well-being of the refugees informed the reason for holding this meeting with all partners. How can we help civil authority to go back to where the returnees will be sheltered in Banki (Borno border town, about 134 kms Southeast of Maiduguri) and improve their humanitarian needs? These are our concerns,” she said.
UNHCR representative to Nigeria and ECOWAS, Jose Canhandula, said the upsurge of attacks on northern part of Cameroon by Boko Haram may have fueled the change of position by the officials in Cameroon. He said Cameroon was using security as alibi to go against Kampala convention and tripartite agreement signed with Nigeria. “We will keep talking to Cameroon government and continue to engage with it before we make public comment,” he declared.