Cameroon: Influx of refugees strains town resources (IPS)

| April 28, 2014

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Abdul Karim lives in Garoua-Boulaï, a town in eastern Cameroon on the border with the Central African Republic, or CAR. He left the CAR at the end of February, one of the many refugees who fled to Cameroon.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, or UNHCR, about 30,000 refugees have crossed the border into Cameroon in February. The small town of Garoua-Boulaï is now struggling to meet the needs of both refugees and local residents.

Mr. Karim and 32 members of his family are sharing a small tent, pitched in a temporary refugee camp in the town. He says: “I’m here with my two wives, my children, my brother’s children and my mother. We left with nothing. We depend entirely on the UNHCR for our needs.”

Thousands of refugees are waiting for the UNHCR to register and house them. Aid workers say there are many Chadians and Nigerians among the refugees from CAR.

Violence between ex-Seleka and anti-balaka militias has killed two thousand and displaced a quarter of the four million inhabitants of CAR since the March 2013 coup. It is estimated that nearly 130,000 refugees from CAR are currently in Cameroon.

The number of refugees increases daily. Hundreds of container trucks travel from the international airport of Douala in Cameroon every day, entering CAR via Garoua-Boulaï, and returning with refugees.

Ngotio Koeke is the commander of the Cameroonian army in Garoua-Boulaï. He says, “More than 100 trucks returned from CAR with refugees yesterday and some have already arrived today. This has been the case since February.”

Adamu Usman is a truck driver. He says, “We carry many refugees whenever we … return to Cameroon … around a hundred people [each trip].”

Most refugees are ethnic Mbororo from western and northern CAR who have been targeted by militias because of their wealth and livestock.

One refugee, Abdul, said that, although the violence had stopped, he will not return home. He explains, “I have nothing. I left behind a herd of cattle. I will not recover them if I go back.”

The situation in Garoua-Boulaï is far from idyllic. Esther Ndoe Yaffo is the mayor of the town. She says their small community does not have the capacity to deal with refugees. The town has doubled in size to 80,000 and services are stretched beyond their capacities. She says, “The refugees have been in the temporary site for over two months now, waiting to be transferred. Scarce resources are now shared with the refugees.”

Food is in short supply, and there has been a surge in the price of staple foods such as rice and maize.

And there are other kinds of problems. Mr. Buba is a local farmer and motorcycle driver in Garoua-Boulaï. The 24-year-old claims that his fencing was vandalized by refugees. He explains, “My field is now exposed to livestock [that are eating the plants]. Some refugees are harvesting immature crops in people’s fields.”

A good number of refugees have found work selling firewood and food to their fellow refugees and to the local population. But, according to local Médecins sans frontière (MSF) staff, many are suffering from health problems such as malnutrition, diarrhea, gastrointestinal disorders and malaria.

Jon Irwin is in charge of MSF in Cameroon. He says: “Until the refugees are in camps and have access to drinking water, sanitation, food and shelter, there is the risk of epidemics of cholera, measles and malaria. These risks are greater since the rains started, and there is a need for vaccinations.”

To read the full article on which this story is based (in French), go to: http://www.ipsinternational.org/fr/_note.asp?idnews=7910