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Cameroon accuses UN of defamation

Issa Tchiroma Bakary Minister of Communication

The Government of Cameroon has accused the United Nations for making derogatory statements which undermines the image of the country.

Issa Tchiroma Bakary, Cameroon’s government spokesman, was speaking on March 29 in a press conference in reaction to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees spokesperson’s claims of forceful repatriation by Cameroon of Nigerian refugees since the beginning of the year 2016.

The UNHCR spokesperson,Babar Baloch, had pointed out during a press conference granted on March 21, 2017 in Geneva, that some refugees who were arrested during a military attack against the Boko Haram insurgency, were transported in trucks to a camp of the displaced persons at Banki. He said among those forcibly returned, was a one year old child and a woman who was nine months pregnant who later put to birth a day after their arrival at Banki.

Issa Tchiroma who is also Cameroon’s Minister of communication refuted the allegations stating that they are ungrounded and particularly unjust in describing a country like Cameroon whose meritorious efforts to host refugees are unanimously lauded, including by the High Commissioner for Refugees.

With regard to the facts on the ground, Tchiroma said; “it is important to highlight that, on March 20, 2017, while fleeing the Nigerian army operations against the Boko Haram terrorist group, 841 Nigerian nationals, including 154 men, 288 women and 399 children, found themselves in Cameroon. They were welcomed by the elements of the Cameroonian army based in the Lafia locality, who, with the means at their disposal, gave them all the necessary assistance in terms of food and medical care. Considering the general fatigue conditions of these refugees, in which some sustained injuries through bullets, coupled with the remote location of the Minawao camp, the Cameroonian authorities, under the effective supervision of the local HCR bureau and in collaboration with the relevant Nigerian authorities, undertook to organise their safe return in their country. For this purpose, civilian trucks were requisitioned in support of military vehicles. In all, 905 Nigerian nationals (over sixty new refugees who were added to the other 841), were regrouped and transported to Banki in Nigeria, and handed over to the Nigerian authorities, in the morning of March 21, 2017. None of them expressed the desire to stay in Cameroon”. The government’s spokesman stated that all these operations took place in strict compliance with the provisions contained in the Tripartite Agreement signed on March 2, 2017 as part of the voluntary return of Nigerian refugees living in Cameroon.

To Tchiroma, Cameroon has no lesson to learn from anyone in matters of hospitality. “The country has always hosted a good number of refugees who find asylum in our territory. The local Cameroonian authorities, known for their legendary hospitality and solidarity, have always spontaneously hosted these helpless persons. Notwithstanding the end of conflicts which justified their departure from their country of origin, many refugees have nevertheless chosen to stay in Cameroon. Today, Cameroon hosts over 550,000 refugees, mostly nationals of the Central African Republic and Nigeria. But there are also some former Chadian, Rwandan and Burundian refugees. With regard to Nigerian refugees, more than 87,000 persons are currently present in Cameroon. Over 60,000 of these Nigerian refugees are hosted in the Minawao camp, initially set up for 20, 000 people and whose hosting capacity is today far exceeded. Thousands of other Nigerian refugees are received by host families, yet with very limited resources”.

He added that the influx of refugees has been a particularly heavy burden for public authorities, as well as host communities who do not have enough resources but have to bear considerable pressure. The paramount responsibility of the Cameroonian Government, he went on, relates to its own populations, who are suffering a great deal as a result of the current security crisis and its consequences.

To him, rather than being criticised, Cameroon needs an increased support from the international community to be able to bear the burden of the humanitarian crisis, in order to ensure decent living conditions and guarantee a promising future to refugees and displaced persons. He said the aforementioned ungrounded allegations can offend and frustrate the populations who have always showcased generosity towards refugees.

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