With the number of people fleeing English-speaking areas of Cameroon for Nigeria growing, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is increasingly concerned at the plight of women and children among them. Women and children represent about 80 per cent of the approximately 10,000 refugees registered so far in eastern Nigeria’s Cross River state.
Thousands more are among the population of unregistered Cameroonians in neighbouring states. Some of these are boys and girls who fled to Nigeria alone.
At a press briefing at Palais des Nations in Geneva, the UNHCR spokesperson William Spindler said unaccompanied and separated children are particularly affected by difficult access to food and the lack of subsistence opportunities.
“UNHCR staff have received numerous reports that children have to work or beg to survive or to help their families. Many children are unable to attend school, as they lack both the time and funds for education. Although schooling in Nigeria is free, there are still some basic costs, such as those for school materials,” William Spindler informed the press.
Some children arriving to Nigeria reported to UNHCR that they had been out of school in Cameroon for the whole of the past academic year.
UNHCR has announced that it is working with the Nigerian authorities to assist with the reunification of separated children with their families, to provide unaccompanied children with protection services and to restore the basic right of all children to education.
UNHCR has also recognized the enormous generosity of the Nigerian border communities, opening their doors to Cameroonian refugees. Almost all of those registered reported that they had left their homes because of insecurity and that they would go back only when it’s safe to do so.
In late 2016, lawyers and teachers organized demonstrations against the perceived marginalization of Cameroon’s English-speaking population. It is more than a year and the crisis has intensified, and has remained concentrated in the two western Anglophone regions, which are home to a fifth of Cameroon’s 22 million people. Now instead of spreading into the east; part of Cameroon, it is extending to an opposite direction: into Nigeria, which borders Cameroon to the west.