Human Rights Watch (HRW) says Cameroon’s forcible repatriation of 100,000 Nigerian asylum seekers in an effort to stem the spread of Boko Haram is in defiance of the UN refugee agency’s plea not to return anyone to north-east Nigeria until the security situation improves.
In Wednesday’s 55-page report "They Forced Us Onto Trucks Like Animals: Cameroon’s Mass Forced Return and Abuse of Nigerian Refugees", HRW said the military’s mass deportations left the refugees vulnerable to spiralling violence, displacement and destitution.
The report outlined that since early 2015, Cameroonian soldiers had tortured, assaulted, and sexually exploited Nigerian asylum seekers in remote border areas, denied them access to the UN refugee agency, and summarily deported, often violently, tens of thousands to Nigeria.
It also documented violence, poor conditions, and unlawful movement restrictions in Cameroon’s only official camp for Nigerian refugees, as well as conditions recent returnees face in Nigeria.
“The Cameroonian military’s torture and abuse of Nigerian refugees and asylum seekers seems to be driven by an arbitrary decision to punish them for Boko Haram attacks in Cameroon and to discourage Nigerians from seeking asylum,” said Gerry Simpson, associate refugee director at HRW.
“Cameroon should heed the UN’s call on all countries to protect refugees fleeing the carnage in north-east Nigeria, not return them there.”
In recent interviews with 61 asylum seekers and refugees in Nigeria, the refugees reported that they were tortured and assaulted after arriving in remote border areas, and accused of belonging to Boko Haram.
“Some said their children, weakened after living for months or years without adequate food and medical care in border areas, died during or just after the deportations, and others said children were separated from their parents,” HRW reported.
Refugees who reached Cameroon’s only designated camp for Nigerian refugees, in Minawao, have also faced violence from Cameroonian soldiers.
While they have some protection as refugees, the approximately 70,000 people there have had limited access to food and water, and abusive restrictions placed on their movement.
Tens of thousands of deportees from Cameroon end up in insecure militarised displacement camps or villages in Borno State, where conditions are dire, and women and girls face sexual exploitation.
The ongoing conflict between the Nigerian military and Boko Haram is taking place near these sites and as of mid-September had displaced almost two million other Nigerian civilians.
- African News Agency (ANA)