The UN refugee agency says it is shocked by reports that Cameroonian authorities have forcibly returned some 9,000 Nigerian refugees who fled across the border earlier in the week in search of safety from militant attacks.
The sudden mass exodus of thousands of Nigerian refugees into Cameroon followed attacks by Boko Haram militants in the small border town of Rann in Nigeria’s Borno State on Monday.
The militants reportedly targeted military installations, civilian and humanitarian facilities. The United Nations reports the market and shelters housing thousands of internally displaced people in Rann were burned down by the attackers. At least 14 people are reported killed.
UN refugee spokesman, Babar Baloch, tells VOA Cameroon’s expulsion of the thousands of Nigerian refugees fleeing for their lives was totally unexpected and distressing.
“It is really alarming for us to see desperate people who have just arrived in Cameroon seeking safety in this remote part and then for them to be ending up back into a situation of danger is extremely worrying,” said Baloch.
Baloch says the UNHCR and its partners were making preparations to provide humanitarian aid to the newly arriving refugees when they heard the refugees were being summarily expelled.
“It is unexpected because there were no indications. We were already in touch with the Cameroonian authorities in terms of how to take care of the newly arrived refugees and then we found out reports that they may have been sent back,” said Baloch.
Baloch says there are concerns for the possibly precarious situation of another 6,000 Nigerian refugees who fled to Cameroon several weeks ago.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi is appealing to Cameroon to continue its open-door policy toward those seeking refuge. He is calling for an immediate halt to any more returns. He says Cameroon must ensure compliance with its obligations under national and international law to protect refugees in fear of their lives.