For the past eleven years, Cameroon has been faced with two outrageous armed conflicts. With no peace prospects in sight, the living is dire for many refugees.
While in the northern region of Cameroon the Boko Haram Jihadist insurgency began about 2010, in the North West and South West Regions the fighting between the Cameroonian army and anglophone separatists flared-up into full-scale war in 2017.
Recently the Migrants & Refugees Section of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development characterised the situation on the Cameroon-Nigerian borders not only as “outrageous” but representing the “untold history of a people.”
Drawing attention to the region, the Vatican office points out the irony of Nigerians crossing the border in the northern areas seeking safety in Cameroon while Cameroonians are also crossing into the southeastern region of Nigeria. As the conflicts rage on, many innocent people have been killed, children forced to drop out of school and families on the run, have left their homes. There are not many headlines about these conflicts save for the odd mention when serious atrocities occur. In between, ordinary villagers, the National Commission for Refugees, UN agencies and the Church both in Cameroon and Nigeria are doing their bit to provide humanitarian assistance for Cameroonians caught-up in the conflicts.
Nigeria’s Archdiocese of Calabar welcoming Cameroonian refugees
When refugees cross into Nigeria from Cameroon, some of them would have been on the run for close to eight days before they can find help. Hungry, tired and some in need of medical attention from gunshot wounds, the first responders for the new arrivals, as happens always, are the local people and local authorities. The situation has not been any different In Nigeria’s Cross River State on the southeastern side of the country of which Calabar is the capital.
“One of the refugees shared a heart-breaking experience. He was in bed when in the middle of the night he heard shouting, a lot of noise and then the sound of a gun. He just got out of bed and ran. He was not even properly dressed. He was in his boxer shorts and had to flee the attack on his village just as he was. They ran into the bush where they were for seven to eight days. Feeding was a major problem … a lot of lives have been lost (in the anglophone regions), and people are scared for their lives,” Fr. Emmanuel Bekomson told Vatican News in an interview.
Fr. Bekomson, Director of the Archdiocese of Calabar’s Justice Development Peace Commission (JDPC), observed that because of the influx of refugees, local infrastructure had been stretched to the limit and the impact on already poor and struggling host communities is visible. There is inadequate accommodation, food, water, sanitation and mosquito nets, he said.
Small income-generating projects such as hair salons
It can take days before the new arrivals, from Cameroon, are processed by local government authorities and UN agencies. In the meantime, the refugees need a place to stay and food as they wait. Fr. Bekomson appealed for help so that the Archdiocese of Calabar can build a centre where newly arrived refugees would be housed as they await processing. Refugees, said Fr. Bekomson, also need small income-generating projects such as hair salons, barbershops or poultry for them be independent.
Cooperation between Nigerian and Cameroonian Bishops
Dioceses in Nigeria and Cameroon are cooperating and coordinating humanitarian efforts. According to Fr. Bekomson, humanitarian support includes spiritual and pastoral care.
For their part, the Cameroonian Bishops under the auspices of the Bishops of the Ecclesiastical Province of Bamenda (BAPEC) where many of the Cameroonian refugees originate, are in constant communion with their brother-Bishops in the Nigerian Episcopate to “accompany their Sheep” on the move.
“Yes, indeed the socio-political crisis in our part of the country has greatly come with the unfortunate displacement of many of our people. We have many of our people who are Internally Displaced, and some are refugees even as far away as in Nigeria. At the moment we do not see any headway out of the crisis, and we may have to deal with this for a long while,” said Bishop George Nkuo, the Bishop of Kumbo and President of BAPEC.