Nige­ria camps un­der strain from re­turn­ing refugees

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

An up­surge in Boko Haram at­tacks and returnees from Cameroon are stretch­ing camps for those made home­less by the con­flict to break­ing point, as the UN warned against forc­ing peo­ple back to north­east Nige­ria. Obinna Or­jin­gene is a doc­tor for UNICEF in the town of Banki, near the border with Cameroon, where the pop­u­la­tion has jumped from 32,000 to 45,000 in the last few months alone. He is part of a small, over­worked med­i­cal team treat­ing ev­ery­thing from malaria and trauma to mal­nu­tri­tion in the over­crowded camp for the dis­placed. “A pop­u­la­tion of over 40,000 peo­ple with just one med­i­cal doc­tor is crazy,” he told AFP from Banki by tele­phone. “It’s over­whelm­ing.” But he said the sit­u­a­tion is repli­cated across the re­mote re­gion. “I’m quite aware that some camps don’t have doc­tors. There are a lot of chal­lenges.”

Rounded up

A to­tal of 889 Nige­rian refugees ar­rived in Banki from the Mi­nawao camp in Cameroon on June 17, prompt­ing the UN high com­mis­sioner for refugees to speak out. Filippo Grandi said he was “ex­tremely wor­ried” by the re­turns and called them “un­sus­tain­able”. The UN refugee agency on Thurs­day said 887 Nige­ri­ans were “rounded up” into six trucks and forcibly re­turned by Cameroon to camps “dan­ger­ously un­pre­pared to re­ceive them”.

Like other camps, Banki re­mains vul­ner­a­ble to Boko Haram at­tacks and has been tar­geted by sui­cide bombers. The camp lies in­side the old walls of the de­stroyed city and peo­ple, un­able to leave be­cause of the mil­i­tants nearby, depend on hand­outs for food. Wa­ter and shel­ter are scarce and chil­dren are not in school. Boko Haram fight­ers are said to be re­spon­si­ble for the gun­fire heard at night.

Forced move­ment

“In the last month we’ve had a pre­cip­i­tous re­turn of Nige­rian refugees from Cameroon that wasn’t nec­es­sar­ily ex­pected,” said UNHCR Rep­re­sen­ta­tive to Nige­ria Jose An­to­nio Can­han­dula. “They ap­par­ently were in­formed that the sit­u­a­tion was good in Nige­ria and they could re­turn. “We im­me­di­ately started a cam­paign to in­form them of the real sit­u­a­tion. This is not the time to re­turn, be­cause when you re­turn you end up in a camp with much less ser­vices.”

Cameroon and Nige­ria have been bat­tling over refugees for the past year, said Yan St-Pierre, of the Mod­ern Se­cu­rity Con­sult­ing Group in Berlin. In March, the UN said that more than 2,600 Nige­ri­ans of an es­ti­mated 85,000 who fled into north­ern Cameroon to es­cape Boko Haram ji­hadists had been forced to go home. In a way, Cameroon is call­ing Nige­ria’s bluff, St-Pierre said. Since Dec 2015, Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari has claimed Boko Haram is “tech­ni­cally de­feated” and the gov­ern­ment has in­sisted the group is on the back foot de­spite at­tacks.

In the first six months of 2017, Boko Haram has at­tacked sol­diers, staged as­saults on mil­i­tary bases, killed scores in sui­cide bomb­ings and ear­lier in June launched a ma­jor as­sault on Maiduguri, the cap­i­tal of north­east Borno state. “It’s a po­lit­i­cal way of tak­ing them to the word, say­ing, ‘Well, if you’ve se­cured the area, then take your pop­u­la­tion back’,” said St-Pierre.


BANKI, Nige­ria: This photo taken on April 26, 2017 shows a man, in­jured by an im­pro­vised ex­plo­sive device (IED) sit­ting with oth­ers out­side his tent in this town in north­east­ern Nige­ria.

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