Southern Cameroon refugees: Displaced from home, despised abroad
Since the struggle for equality and justice by the people of Southern Cameroon against the Francophone north began, leading to an almost endless conflict between separatists from the Anglophone south and government forces, over 500, 000 Cameroonians fleeing from the crisis have been displaced.
While some of the displaced have taken refuge in rural areas and the forests, majority have spilled into border communities along the West African coast, with Cross River and Taraba States in Nigeria becoming the big hosts.
For those who fled their cozy abodes and structured lives in the wake of the crisis and found shelter in different parts of Nigeria, life has been everything but sweet. In a case of being displaced from home yet being unsettled abroad, life, indeed, has been a parody. Aside living in totally poor and inhuman conditions in camps hurriedly put up without consideration for basic amenities required for living, survival has been by the day and for the fittest.
Before the influx of the displaced Cameroonians, Adagom and Okende villages in Ogoja Local Council of Cross River State were quiet and agrarian. But the arrival of thousands of registered refugees eroded that serenity, as the two host villages with a population of less than 3, 000 have now become busy, with a cluster of 72 new communities (41 in Adagom and 31 in Okende) built up by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and their partners. The development took vehicular and human traffic to a level never experienced before.
The population of refugees, according to the Director General, Cross River State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), Mr. Princewill Ayim, keeps increasing daily, making it a challenge to put an accurate figure to the displaced persons being harboured. While a UNHCR report, stated that, “in Cross River alone, the 26, 000 figure as of March 2019, has grown to about 28,713,” Ayim confirmed that the number of unregistered refugees doubles the UNHCR figure.
In Taraba State, the displaced Cameroonians have taken refuge in five out of the 16 local government areas, namely; Takum, Ussa, Donga, Sardauna and Wukari.
Trauma, Hardship In Camps
As the refugee population continues to grow at the camps, the living condition and well being of the settlers are said to be everything but pleasant. Aside from the dehumanising conditions that they live in, majority of them have resorted to taking up menial jobs in the environs as a means of survival.
The Adagom settlement is just by the Ogoja-Katsina-Ala Highway. It has 41 small one-room structures, each mostly accommodating a household of five. It has no bath, toilet or kitchen facility. The cooking is done outside, while bath and toilets are provided outside by the UNHCR. The environment is moderately clean, with solar streetlights, and general pump boreholes provided in strategic corners across the massive settlement.
Asu Javis Owan, a 24-year-old, who runs a barbing salon outside the settlement, in company of his friends, was full of praise for the UNHCR and the Nigerian people for accommodating them, but he bemoaned the conditions at the camp.
He said: “The problems here are many. We do not have water and food. Occasionally, food would be there in the warehouse, but it would not be distributed. They will end up burning it when it goes bad and it pains us.
“They pay us monthly; each person gets N7, 200. But for three months now, they have not paid. The money is good, but before they pay us, we may have run into so much debt. They paid last in July. We survive with this money; we are just struggling.”
Owan arrived at the Adagom settlement with his parents last December after the army in Cameroon drove them away from Okwaya in Southern Cameroon over alleged claims by the Paul Biya-led government that they were terrorists.
Issues of poor access to education, feeding, health, prostitution, joblessness, discrimination and others were also raised when The Guardian sought other opinions in the camp. For instance, about 80 persons are said to have lost their lives in the past one year due to poor health facilities, hunger and trauma.
In the settlements in Taraba, some respondents told The Guardian that life has been pretty difficult as assistance expected from the authorities, especially from the Federal Government of Nigeria are not rendered when due.
The development, they added, has now resulted in the regular occurrence of avoidable vices in the camps as helpless parents, left with no alternative, succumb to trading their children for money.
The dire situation could, perhaps, have been the trigger for 20-year-old Claudia, a refugee at the Adagom camp, who recently sold her baby for N70, 000.
Claudia had arrived Nigeria from Cameroon in October 2018, pregnant, alongside over 40, 000 other refugees.
Charles Ojon, leader of the refugees in Adagom camp, recalled that Claudia was delivered of a baby shortly after she arrived at the camp, but had been struggling to survive the hellish conditions at the camp.
But for a dispute, which arose from the sharing formula of the proceeds from the baby sale, the act may have gone unnoticed.
According to Elvis Manget, one of the refugees on the security team of the camp, the deal was discovered when an argument ensued over the money. Some of the refugees who witnessed the incident said Claudia had been suffering since she arrived at the camp.
Claudia blamed her action on hunger and hardship.
Ojon said: “When the police came, she said she sold the child because of hardship; that there is no food or anything to feed the child with. That was just before they paid our July allowance. Then, everywhere was dry. A lot of us have been selling our things and using them to settle debts.”
Another refugee, who said he first met the woman when she had a case with a resident of Ogoja, whom she had an affair with, corroborated Ojon’s claim.
The refugee said: “A Nigerian had earlier been here to take her to his house; they slept together but he did not pay her after their business. So she came to report the matter to us; that was when I first saw her and the kid. We were sent to go and bring the man and the matter was later settled.”
In Taraba, some parents have also been compelled to give their children away as domestic helps. And some have lost contact with the children, who have since been taken to far-flung locations across the country.
Bubs Ali, a 13-year-old boy, who escaped from Cameroon along with his parents and came to Ussa, now goes round the villages helping people on their farms and often times washing plates in restaurants.
Worried that his dreams of getting educated may have been shattered, he called on the international community to urgently wade into the upheaval in his country.
Unlike Ali, many unlucky children in camps in Taraba State are currently miles away from their siblings and parents, as they have followed agents acting as middlemen for households in need of house helps.
A 46-year-old woman, who preferred to be anonymous, said many of those in the camps have fallen victims to agents, who, according to her, “always come here promising to help us train our children.”
The Guardian gathered that while some of the agents put on the garments of faith-based organisations to exploit the parents, some went as far as donning the emblems of Non-governmental Organisations (NGOs) to be able wean the children off their parents or guardians.
Most of the camps visited were populated by women and children, and were in dire need of health facilities and sanitary systems. Outbreak of diseases seem imminent, as The Guardian observed in one instance that the refugees drank water from the same ponds with animals, just as they defecated indiscriminately around their surroundings due to lack of latrines.
The ugly situation of the refugees is made worse by the prevailing security situation in the Southern part of Taraba State, which has continually led to killings between the Tiv and Jukun, kidnappings and banditry.
According to some of the displaced persons, the ongoing killings in the zone have made life more difficult for them, in that they are always afraid to go out in search of work, or food and get mistaken as Tiv or Jukun in the process.
Refugees As Strain On Host Communities
Since their arrival and continuous inflow into their host communities in both Cross River and Taraba states, there have been muffled complaints by locals and their representatives that the massive presence of the Cameroonians was hitting hard on health facilities.
In a chat with The Guardian, a local council chairman, currently playing host to some of the refugees in Taraba, narrated how the massive influx of the refugees into his council in Ussa was fast crippling facilities.
The council boss, Rimansikwe Tanko Musa, stressed the need for governments at both the state and federal levels to establish a hospital in Ussa, stating that, “what we have here is a clinic. So, we need a hospital to address these challenges.”
The chairman said that the medical facility available, including drugs, have been over-stretched by the displaced persons. He lamented that the council was now in dire need of a well-equipped hospital.
The chairman, who spoke through his supervisory counselor on Primary Health Care, Sechap Giwa Rikuye, said: “While two of the wards in the council are presently being occupied by the refugees, one of the wards in the neighbouring Special Development Area of Yangtu, which also depends solely on the health clinic located in Ussa, have also been overtaken by the refugees.”
Apart from the state governments and the Taraba State Primary Health Care Development Agency (TSPHCDA) that have been giving some helping hand to the refugees, Musa added that the government at the centre has not deemed it fit to give any form of assistance to the camps.
Just as Ussa seeks the immediate establishment of an equipped hospital, it is the same story across other affected councils as their chairmen also called on the federal government to complement the state government’s effort in order to make life comfortable for the refuges as well as their host communities.
The agency that claimed to be aware of the presence of displaced persons from Cameroon in the state, said a lot of plans are in the pipelines to ensure that their health situations is adequately addressed
The Executive Secretary of the agency, Alhaji Aminu Hassan Jauro, who made this known through the State Health Education, Mrs. Mercy Maigoge, said the agency would not go to bed pending when 100 percent routine immunity coverage is actualised, stressing that the state government” is fully in support of what the agency is doing.”
The agency in collaboration with “our development partners” he said “are going to work collectively round the clock to ensure quality service delivery in the health facilities scattered across the affected councils.
Urging the health workers not to discriminate against the refugees and the people of the communities, the collaborating partners and the agency, as stated by him, have designed out plans to bring succour to persons assessing the health facilities and to put an end to child killer diseases in those camps “
Also, aware of the massive presence of Cameroon refugees in the state, governor Darius Dickson Ishaku, who recently played host to the Chief of Field Office, UNICEF, Nigeria, Bauchi Field Office, Mr. Bhanu Parhak said, “we are host to Cameroon refugees; we will continue to try our best to assist them.”
The governor who said he has directed all council chairmen playing host to the refugees “to take adequate care of them” said the state will continue to do that until the situations in Cameroon is addressed.”
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