Saturday, March 06, 2010

Cameroon: The plight of Central African refugees in Cameroon

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres receives gifts from the Mbororo refugees in Bolembe.

A senior United Nations official this week sought to raise awareness of the “forgotten tragedy” of ethnic Mbororo refugees from the Central African Republic (CAR), as he stopped in Cameroon, where they are seeking refuge.

High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres was warmly received at the Mandjou and Bolembe settlements, which together are home to 3,000 refugees and are situated some 350 kilometres east of Cameroon’s capital, Yaoundé.

The Mbororos are mostly nomadic cattle breeders from the west and northwest of neighbouring CAR. Those who have fled to Cameroon since 2005 said they have been targeted by rebels and others for their cattle, with women and children being kidnapped for ransom.

While at Bolembe, Mr. Guterres met Hadja Adama, 45, who fled CAR five years ago with her 11 children after her husband was killed by cattle rustlers. She is struggling to take care of her children, as well as her brother’s four children after he died suddenly.

“These people have gone through an unimaginable ordeal,” Mr. Guterres said at Bolembe. “And the end of the tunnel is not near because there is no sign that the security situation has improved enough for people to think about returning to the Central African Republic.”

The refugees live in dozens of settlements in eastern Cameroon, making it difficult for staff from the UN refugee agency, known as UNHCR, to monitor their situation, register new arrivals and distribute relief supplies.

Following a registration exercise last October, the agency found that there has been a steady influx of Mbororo refugees, with ever greater numbers crossing the border into Cameroon.

The High Commissioner underscored that “it is a shame that such tragedy goes unnoticed. It is urgent to make the international community face its responsibilities.”

Host communities face their own problems, including shortages of clean water and few classrooms.

“These are problems we are trying to solve with our limited resources,” said Aida Haile Mariam, UNHCR Representative in Cameroon.

Before departing for CAR today, Mr. Guterres held talks with top officials in Cameroon, including President Paul Biya and Prime Minister Philemon Yang.

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