21st March, 2017
The UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), on Tuesday decried forced return of Nigerian refugees from Cameroon’s far north region to Boko Haram-gripped north-eastern Nigeria.
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, expressed regrets that the forced returns are continuing in spite of the recent signing of a tripartite agreement aimed at ensuring the voluntary nature of returns.
UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch said: “So far this year, Cameroon has forcefully returned over 2,600 refugees to Nigerian border villages against their will.
“UNHCR is particularly concerned as these forced returns have continued unabated after the governments of Nigeria and Cameroon signed a tripartite agreement with UNHCR in Yaoundé on March 2.
“The forced return of asylum-seekers and refugees is known as refoulement, or forced return, and constitutes a serious violation of the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1969 OAU Convention, both of which Cameroon has ratified.”
While acknowledging the generosity of the Cameroonian Government and local communities that host over 85,000 Nigerian refugees, UNHCR called on Cameroon to honour its obligations under international and regional refugee protection instruments, as well as Cameroonian law.
“Insecurity persists in parts of north-eastern Nigeria, and access to basic services remains limited.
“Most returning refugees find themselves in situations of internal displacement upon return and are unable to return to their places of origin.
“Inside Nigeria, UNHCR teams have heard and documented accounts about Cameroonian troops returning refugees against their will – without allowing them time to collect their belongings.
“Amid the chaos, some families were separated and some women were forced to leave their young children behind in Cameroon, including a child less than three years old.
“While recognising the legitimate national security concerns of the Cameroon Government, UNHCR reminds authorities that refugees are themselves fleeing violence and attacks from Boko Haram and that their access to asylum and protection must be ensured.”