The UN refugee agency on Tuesday reported that thousands of people continue to flee to Cameroon to escape attacks by Boko Haram insurgents in north-east Nigeria.
“According to Cameroonian authorities, some 13,000 Nigerian refugees crossed from Adamawa state after insurgents attacked and captured the town of Mubi in late October. The refugees fled to the towns of Guider and Gashiga in the North region of Cameroon and to Bourha, Mogode and Boukoula in the Far North,” UNHCR said in a press release from Geneva.
UNHCR cited local authorities in Cameroon as saying the “vast majority” of these 13,000 Nigerians had returned to Nigeria, saying that their final destination was Yola, the capital city of Adamawa state, about 200 kilometres south of Mubi.
In the days immediately following the attack on Mubi, it was reported that refugees arrived in Cameroon in more than 300 vehicles – including many personal vehicles, as well as some trucks and rented cars. The Cameroonian authorities reported that they facilitated onward transit movements and provided escorts to ensure the safety of those transiting through Cameroonian territory.
On the Nigeria side, a UNHCR team confirmed that thousands of Nigerians were now being hosted at Girei (Gombe State) and at the National Youth Service Centre in Yola (one of five sites in Adamawa state hosting internally displaced people). The new arrivals were receiving assistance.
In Yola, UNHCR has interviewed some of the people who transited through Cameroon before re-entering Nigeria. “The vast majority of them are women and children. They told our teams that many families were forced to flee on foot, taking few belongings with them and walking tens of kilometres before finding safety in Cameroon,” the UNHCR press release said.
It added that UNHCR was also examining claims that some of these refugees may have been forced to return to Nigeria. “We are seeking assurances from both Nigeria and Cameroon that the return of these people was done on a voluntary basis.” Cameroon is hosting thousands of refugees from Nigeria and the Central African Republic. UNHCR urged Cameroon to maintain an open door for refugees.
In other areas in the Far North region that border Nigeria’s Borno state, Cameroonian authorities continue to report regular attempts by insurgents to carry out incursions into Cameroonian territory, frequently launching attacks from their strongholds on the Nigerian side of the border. Before the latest attacks in Mubi, Cameroonian authorities had confirmed that more than 43,000 Nigerians had sought refuge in Cameroon, of whom close to 17,000 are living at Minawao refugee camp, which is managed by UNHCR and other humanitarian agencies.
Meanwhile in Niger, at least 1,000 people have arrived in the Bosso area, in the south of the country, following the capture by insurgents last week of the garrison town of Malam Fatori. The Nigerian town is located only a few kilometres from the border with Niger.
The new arrivals in Bosso say that Malam Fatori is now almost empty, as most inhabitants have fled without taking any belongings with them. Children show signs of trauma. At this point, it is difficult to know exactly how many people have arrived in the past few days.
The crisis in the north-east of Nigeria has led to the flight of more than 100,000 people to Niger since May 2013 (both Nigerian refugees and citizens of Niger), according to the local authorities, as well as 2,700 refugees to Chad. At the same time, over 650,000 people are displaced within Nigeria’s six north-eastern states.