UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is concerned by continuing forced return of hundreds of refugees from Cameroon’s far north region to north-eastern Nigeria despite the recent signing of the tripartite agreement aimed at, among other things, ensuring the voluntary nature of returns.
So far this year, Cameroon has forcefully returned over 2,600 refugees back 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 Yaounde on March 2 to facilitate the voluntary return of Nigerian refugees when conditions were conducive.
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. In one incident on March 4, some 26 men, and 27 women and children, were sent back from the Cameroonian border town of Amtide, in Kolofata district, where they had sought refuge, according to UNHCR monitoring teams in the border regions.
In Nigeria’s Borno State some refugees were rounded up during a military offensive against Boko Haram insurgents in the Mandara Mountains on the Cameroonian side of the border and were taken in trucks to a camp for displaced people in Banki. Those returned included a one-year-old child and a nine-month pregnant woman, who gave birth the day after her arrival in Banki.
During the chaos families were separated and some women were forced to leave their young children behind in Cameroon, including a child less than three years old. Returnees were given food and water by aid agencies and are now settled in the Banki camp for internally displaced people. UNHCR staff also recorded about 17 people who claimed to be Cameroonian nationals, and also reported that they were deported by mistake to Banki. It is common in this region to find people who lack documentary proof of their nationality.
While acknowledging the generosity of the Government of Cameroon and local communities who host over 85,000 Nigerian refugees, UNHCR calls on the Government of Cameroon to honour to its obligations under international and regional refugee protection instruments, as well as Cameroonian law.
The forced return of asylum seekers and refugees is 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.
This press release (excerpt) was published on the UNHCR's website on March 21, 2017.