ABUJA, Nigeria – The UNHCR Representative to Nigeria and ECOWAS, Antonio Jose Canhandula, conducted a fact-finding mission to Benue state, North Central and Cross River state, South-South Nigeria from 8 to 10th January, 2018 where he interacted with Cameroonian refugees in the Abande, Kwande Local Government Area (LGA), Utanga and Amana in Obanliku LGA.
The Representative held meetings with state government and traditional leaders, and he expressed UNHCR’s commitment to work closely with local authorities to provide assistance to the Cameroonian refugees without neglecting the host communities.
“We are committed to working with the Government of Nigeria to ensure that we provide a safe community environment for Cameroonian refugees and their host communities in Benue and Cross River states”, said Canhandula. “As such, our recommendation is that the refugees should be moved away from the border per international standards”, he added.
UNHCR immediate priority is to work together with the State Emergency Management Agency in the spirit of the 2016 New York Declaration, to create temporary camps, pending identification, with a long-term view to explore avenues that should allow refugees to live in host communities, gain access to opportunities where they can become more self-reliant and contribute to the local economy, thus fuelling the development of the communities hosting them, he explained.
Since October last year, UNHCR has seen a steady increase in the number of people predominately from Cameroon’s Anglophone region who have fled their homes for their own safety to Cross River and Benue states in Nigeria. Regarding the number of Cameroonian refugees in Nigeria, the UNHCR Representative noted that 8,050 refugees have been registered, mainly in Cross River state. Many more have not been registered.
In the meantime, together with the National Commission for Refugees Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons, UNHCR will continue biometric registration for new arrivals in Cross River and Benue states.
“I would like to express my appreciation to the Government of Nigeria for the support shown so far and appreciate the efforts of the state authorities for the relief assistance provided to those arriving”, said Canhandula, This, he added, is a critical life-saving measure for many that arrive empty handed.
Many of these refugees are women, children and the elderly, and they are currently being hosted by locals in Nigerian communities near the border with Cameroon. Those that have managed to cross the border into Nigeria have passed through several unofficial entry points.
The situation could worsen if a solution to the crisis in Cameroon’s Anglophone region is not quickly found. UNHCR is concerned that as the crisis in Cameroon continues and the government adopts extra security measures, more asylum seekers will arrive. Political dialogue is also needed, as it will help end the current crisis.
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