Cameroonian authorities have deported at least 10.000 Nigerian refugees since 2015 according to the Human Rights Watch report released in September 2017. The decision to deny asylum to thousands of Nigerian was defend by Cameroon authorities as a measure to prevent attacks from the Islamist group Boko Haram. The forced returns breach the principle of non-refoulement, which prevents asylum-seekers from being returned to countries where they are at risk of human rights violation.
Boko Haram has strongly fixed itself in northern Cameroon since 2014 and has been attacking the Cameroonian citizens. According to the document, Cameroonian officials didn’t accuse Nigerian asylum seekers or refugees of being members of Boko Haram, but most of the international aid agency officials and diplomats interviewed by HRW said that “Cameroonian officials in closed-door meetings in 2017 had increasingly said they considered the presence of Nigerians in Cameroon a grave security threat”.
As stated in the report, since early 2015, Cameroon’s army has demonstrated aggressive behaviour towards newly arriving Nigerians at the border, including forms of torture and abuse, and has kept them in improvised refugee settlements with precarious services, where the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has no access. According to HRW, “this policy of blocking asylum seekers from accessing protection has made it easier for Cameroon to deport them.”
A 43-year-old man told the HRW that Cameroonian soldiers in the Minawao camp had physically and verbally attacked refugees who were trying to get food:
They humiliated us like animals and beat us like we were slaves. They beat my 22-year-old brother so badly with a wooden stick on his head and his chest that he later died of internal bleeding
Until the middle of August of 2017, 4,402 refugees are known to have been deported, some of them have died during or just after the deportations and there are children who have been separated from their parents. Cameroon has been well-known for being a friendly country for refugees for more than thirty years. According to UNHCR’s statistical database, until the early 2000s, Cameroon hosted approximately 50,000 refugees from Rwanda, the Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, and other countries.
Forced returns are not only a violation of the principle of non-refoulement, but they also violate the African regional refugee law, which prohibits the return of civilians to situations of generalized violence.
The country is also not following the UNHCR late 2016 request to all governments to don’t return anyone to Northeast Nigeria until the situation has had any improvement.
At the end of July 2017, international donors had funded less than ten percent of UNHCR’s appeals for the Central African Republic and Nigerian refugee crisis – something that may stimulate even more intolerance acts against Nigerian refugees.
The United Nations and Nigerian aid groups have urgently requested the end of forced returns, considering the risks and their lack of capacity to address the needs of returnees.
The full report can be accessed here: https://www.hrw.org/report/2017/09/27/they-forced-us-trucks-animals/cameroons-mass-forced-return-and-abuse-nigerian
By Raiane Cardoso (UFRJ)