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Harsh camp conditions dehumanising, causing deaths of refugees – Elias

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Elias

Tako Elias is the Chairman, Adagom and Okende Cameroon Refugee Settlements in Ogoja Local Government Area of Cross River state. He spoke with ANIETIE AKPAN on the challenges the refugees contend with daily and how life has, consequently, been difficult.

Life in camp
Living has been difficult in a way because we have a standard here, which puts our stipend at just N7, 200 monthly per individual. When you divide this into the 30 days, you discover that a refugee is gets just N270, which is less than a US dollar per day. How is it possible to survive with that? The monthly stipend is not even paid often. Sometimes, they delay for up to two months before it is released to us. As a result, you will see that some refugees are actually and sincerely dying. They are starving of hunger. To survive, some go into the neighbouring villages in search of jobs for their children and wives. The mode of living here is difficult.

Issues of pregnancy are also very high. Due to lack of jobs, some of the ladies succumb to the urge to go out on sex-for-money rounds. It is prostitution and they do it in large numbers. The girls do not have anything they do here; they just go out and meet men to take care of them.

Feeding situation
We are suffering from malnutrition because the feeding arrangement here is very poor. When we came here they were giving us some food like rice, beans, sugar, groundnut oil, red oil, salt, maggi and others to enable us feed ourselves. But we discovered that all of us were actually feeding on one class of food. But, normally, a human being should be having combination of food to maintain a balance diet. So, they later converted the system of giving raw food to finance, which made them put us on N7, 200 but it is not enough for us. Some donors come on weekly basis and when we see that the food can go round all the communities, we call all the community leaders (each community is made up of a community leader and a Community Chairlady) and distribute them. They in turn go down to their communities and distribute the food to their members. Sometimes, food stays in the UNHCR warehouse and get bad without any distribution. Like now, we have some food for more than five months and have not been distributed. When we ask, they will say they have a procedure of distributing food passing through all the protocols to Geneva and back. Following all these process, food will get bad but the ones we have in our own refugee store here we do distribute freely

Deaths in the camp
We have had many of them. We have lost more than 80 persons here. We lose people almost every week. In August, we lost 12 persons. In September, we lost about four persons. This is how people have been dying over the last year. We have been here for over a year.

Cause of deaths
Most of these people died as a result of malnutrition and hunger. Some died as a result of the trauma they went through having witnessed their brothers being killed in their presence. It has really affected us mentally leading to high blood pressure.

The sub-standard health system has been challenging, resulting in loss of lives. Back in Cameroon, we had access to hospitals, good and quality drugs, qualified doctors and nurses, who would promptly attend to you. The story is different here. If you go to the hospital, the first question they will ask you is, ‘are you a refugee?’ If you say yes, the attention they will give to you will be different from that of the host community members. Likewise, the kind of drugs they will give to you will not be the same quality compared to where we were coming from.

There is also the issue of climatic change. Our systems are yet to fully acclimatize with the weather here. This really affects us, especially the children.

There is discrimination between the refugees and Nigerians. It is done in the hospitals, in education (schools) and even with access to job opportunities regarding the partners we have here. They will say this one is a refugee, so he does not have access to job opportunity as compared to Nigerians.

Expectations
If it is possible, we want UNHCR to give us access to qualified doctors and nurses in the camp. If UNHCR can provide us access to some of our brothers and sisters who are qualified to be employed as nurses and doctors in the hospitals, that would be good. Also, engage some teachers amongst us in some schools because we have our brothers and sisters who have degrees and masters in different careers.

We equally have many undergraduates in our midst who do not have access to the University anymore. Initially, when we came in, UNHCR told us that their budget is for primary and secondary school students, that they do not have support for tertiary level. We have more than 200 of such undergraduates stranded here doing nothing.
Considering your status in Cameroon, what do you want the Nigerian government and the United Nations to do?

We will appreciate every effort made so we could regain freedom. It is for that single reason that we fled from our beloved country to this place.

Do you still have your people in Southern Cameroon?
Yes, we still have a few that are still there insisting that they will not leave their fathers’ land just like that. They want to die for the benefit of others because if we all run who are those that will stand for us? If all of us go, it will seem as if we are all running away from the so-called Paul Biya who cannot do anything for us. So, we still have our brothers there, though most of them are still living in the bushes. Just few are in the communities.

If you go to a very high community like this you cannot even count up to 10 persons that are living in their houses. Most of them are living in the forest, fight from there.

It is said that some of you here are militants and mercenaries. What do you have to say?
Whosoever gave you that information is not on track with us and I don’t think he even knows us. We don’t have militants here; we are all civilians.


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