UN opposes forced return of Nigerian refugees from Cameroon

French Ambassador to Nigeria, Denys Gauer (left); First Counsellor, Embassy of Republic of Chad to Nigeria, Dr. Bechir Niam Mahamat and Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer, COTEA International Nigeria Limited, Zaheer Khan during the celebration of French National Day in Abuja …at the weekend. PHOTO: LUCY LADIDI ELUKPO

• French envoy tasks leaders on anti-terrorism fight

The United Nations (UN) has opposed the Cameroonian government’s “forced repatriation” of 130, 000 Nigerian refugees to the border towns of Banki, Gwoza and Pulka in Borno State.

According to the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), the repatriation is in gross violation of the tripartite agreement of voluntary return of refugees signed on March 2, 2017 in Yaounde between Nigeria and Cameroun.

If Cameroon insists on expelling Nigerian refugees, their influx in the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps is going to worsen the congestion already being experienced. Besides, the plan shall erode the authority of the UN to make laws on refugees worldwide.

The UNHCR regional representative in Nigeria, Mrs. Liz Ahua, flayed the action at the weekend during an emergency meeting with representatives of National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Borno State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) and civil society groups at the Government Reservation Area (GRA), Maiduguri .

She said that over 800,000 Nigerian refugees were accommodated at Minawawo resettlement camp, while 50,000 others were randomly resettled in Cameroon alone. The eight-year Boko Haram insurgency has displaced about 2.6 million people who are taking refuge in neighbouring countries of Niger, Chad and Cameroun.

“The Cameroonian government has severally claimed that the refugees from Nigeria currently taking refuge in Kolofata, Minawawo, Marua and other communities in Cameroon constituted security and economic threats to its corporate existence,” Ahua said.

The UN official said that most of the communities liberated by the military were not safe for the “repatriation and return” of refugees to their country. “Although some categories of Nigerian refugees in Cameroon have voluntarily returned, or indicated their interest to return, forcing
refugees to return at this critical moment is going to do more harm than good while responding to humanitarian crisis in the North-East.

“UNHCR wants a situation where it will be responsible for facilitating return of refugees, but not by force, in line with the convention earlier signed between the two countries.

“There is a convention and we in UNHCR will not allow anybody or government to flout the agreement concerning the plights of refugees,” Ahua said. On condition for repatriations, the UN official said:  “Until shelter, health care services, economic recovery, livelihoods, basic services, peace and security are fully restored in Banki, Pulka, Gwoza and Kala Balge, among other affected Nigerian border communities, as enshrined in the tripartite agreement, UNHCR will not be in support of forced repatriation. This is not how business is done; as agreed between the two countries.

“The issue of refugees is not peculiar to Cameroon; we have Nigerian refugees in Chad, Niger and other African countries due to Boko Haram crisis. There is no justification for Cameroon to dismantle our agreements by forcing traumatised Nigerian refugees out of that country for now.”

The SEMA chairman, Ahmed Satomi said that the state government with support from the Nigerian Army, other security agencies and humanitarian partners, facilitated the repatriation of the over 800,000 Nigerian refugees from Cameroon in the last two years.

According to him, most of the repatriated refugees were not officially registered in camps. He urged the Cameroonian government to exercise patience and abide with the tripartite agreements. He said the Borno State government would ensure the return of all displaced persons to safe communities.

Meanwhile, the Ambassador of France to Nigeria, Denys Gauer, has charged the Nigerian government to play its central role in the fight against Boko Haram and to ensure with its armed forces the total defeat of the terrorist group.

He gave the charge at the ‘Bastille Day’ celebration of the French National Day in Abuja. Gauer said besides the fact that Nigeria’s neighbours are countries with limited financial and military resources, these nations are also confronted with other security threats in other parts of their territories.

Chad, Sudan and Central African Republic, for example, have problems they find it difficult to control. Niger, on its part, has problem with money and also issues of terrorism which explains why they cannot dedicate all their means to fight Boko Haram as they must also confront the other threats.

He explained that the G5 Sahel force, which was built on the same model as the multi-lateral joint task force, requires member-states to dedicate one battalion each, which means to effectively combat Boko Haram, Nigeria needs to play its central role especially because Boko Haram started in Nigeria.

Gauer said though Boko Haram fighters been weakened and degraded and do not control cities or territories anymore, the problem “is that Boko Haram has not been completely eliminated and is still on the prowl. Even though divided and weakened, you see it every day that it is still active.

“Nigeria still has more than 2.5million displaced persons still living in camps in very difficult situations and they still can’t go back to their villages because the areas are still insecure because of presence of Boko Haram fighters. That means that the job is not finished,” he said.

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