The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has expressed grave concern over the influx of Nigerian refugees from Cameroon, noting that the returnees were coming home, under extremely difficult conditions.
The UNHCR Country Representative, Mr Jose-Antonio Canhandula, indicated this concern on in Abuja on Tuesday, while briefing development partners and humanitarian stakeholders on the findings from the Tripartite mission to the Republic of Cameroon in May.
“This concern is due to the fact that the return has taken place under extremely difficult conditions as the areas of return have not been considered conducive for safe and dignified return’’, Canhandula stated, adding that the mission embarked upon by the UNHCR alongside representatives from the Nigerian and Cameroon governments was to ascertain precisely the conditions of Nigerian refugees in Cameroon.
He grieved that the spontaneous return of the Nigerian refugees in the past few weeks posed a cause for serious concern, not only to the UNHCR but even the Nigerian government, because the return took place under extremely difficult conditions as the areas they returned to had not been considered conducive for safe and dignified return, with most of them ending up in secondary displacement.
“We have not communicated enough with refugees on the conditions of the areas to which they are returning because it took both the humanitarian group and the government by surprise.
“Banki, which is where they return to, is a town where the infrastructure services are not yet capable of servicing so many people.
“Security is important not only for receiving the people but also for discussing with local authorities what can we do to manage the influx.
“There are a lot of facilities that need to be put in place to ensure that the people when they return are safe and they can function in a normal situation.
“Making Bama, Banki, Pulka and other communities viable will require a concerted effort of humanitarian development actors and the government of Nigeria,’’ Canhandula said.
Canhandula however commended the Federal Government which he noted had already recorded a major achievement in the successful military intervention to liberate communities that were under the control of Boko Haram. He, nonetheless called for the support of government and humanitarian actors to assist the refugees and the displaced persons so that they could regain their livelihood and the capacities to live on their own without humanitarian assistance.
He said that the UNHCR and its partners were working to respond to the shelter, food and Non-Food Items (NFI) needs of the returnees.
“In Banki, UNHCR is providing 300 emergency shelters, and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) is constructing 500, while in Pulka, UNHCR is constructing 190, and IOM is construction 500.
“UNHCR is prepositioning 1,000 NFI kits for approximately 5,000 vulnerable returnees who have arrived Banki with a plan to move additional items to Pulka, Gwoza, and Bama.
“UNHCR is also increasing its advocacy with other humanitarian agencies to intervene in areas of expertise and coordinated response as provision of food for the returnees remains an urgent need,’’ Canhandula said.
The Country Representative said that the speedy operationalisation of the Tripartite Agreement between both governments would help to better manage the voluntary return and resettlement of the refugees.
Mr Ilya Nuhu, Ambassador of Nigeria to Cameroon said that the Nigerian government would put in place machineries to address the current situation and plights of the returnees.
Nuhu, who was a representative of the Nigerian government on the fact finding mission said that for security reasons, the government would also put in measures to decentralise concentration of the returnees in Banki.
He explained that concentrating the returnees in one place would be avoided so that the Boko Haram insurgents do not infiltrate them to cause more harm.
Nuhu advised that committee members of the Tripartite Commission to make designate representatives from the country to the Nigerian border to manage the activities of returnees.
He said that they should have a flow of information about the activities of the refugees both at the camps and those returning as well as the ways they were being received, their complaints and how they could be tackled.
Between April 9 and May 22, a total of 12,202 Nigerian refugees returned spontaneously from the Minawao refugees camp in Cameroon.
The movements took place mainly in two batches and the main areas of return are Banki, Pulka, Mubi, Gwoza, and Bama in the North-East.