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New mother and baby battle for survival in Cameroon refugee camp

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Aminatou*, 15, has recently arrived in Mbile, a site for Central African Republic (CAR) refugees in the East region of Cameroon. Her mother died a few years ago and her father was killed in the ongoing violence in CAR.

Treacherous journey

Aminatou arrived heavily pregnant and exhausted by the 600 kilometre journey. “I walked with my grandmother for three months. It was a very hard journey. I went without food and water for days. I wasn’t sure if I would survive,” she says adding she has no idea where her husband is.

Aminatou crossed over to Cameroon at the border post of Gbiti. Upon their arrival the refugees are taken to a temporary site where they stay until they can be transferred to refugee sites.

Barely days after her arrival, Aminatou delivered a girl in very difficult conditions. “I delivered my baby on a mat inside a tent with the help of some women,” she says. After childbirth, Aminatou was transferred to Mbile refugee site, where she is currently waiting to be allocated a family tent.

Food and clothing shortages

For now, she, and her baby are in a tent shared by 120 other people. “My baby and I sleep on a mat that I borrowed from a family living in the same tent,” she says. “I feel sick, I don’t have shoes or clothes to wear, and neither does my baby. I wrap her in a piece of cloth. It is cold at night, but I have no option.”

Aminatou is suffering from Yellow fever with both herself and her child running the risk of malnutrition. “I am living on just one meal a day provided at the site,” she says.

Aminatou’s situation is one of the tragic stories of thousands of refugees currently sheltering in Cameroonian refugee sites. According to UNHCR among more than 80,000 CAR refugees that have arrived in Cameroon, over 36,000 are children, including teenage mothers.

Urgent hygiene needs

Plan International is among the main aid agencies responding to refugees in Cameroon. “Being a child-centred organisation, Plan’s priority is the welfare of refugee children. The immediate relief phase of our two-year emergency response will be geared towards the urgent hygiene and sanitation needs of children and their mothers,” says Henri-Noel Tatangang, Plan’s emergency specialist for West Africa region.

Plan launched its relief work in the first week of May, distributing first aid supplies to a health centre catering for refugees in the East region. Additionally, hygiene kits have been distributed to 3000 refugee families containing soap, sanitary towels, tooth brushes, tooth paste and a plastic bucket.

“Over the coming weeks Plan will extend its response to cover the areas of child protection and education where there is a huge unmet need,” says Tatangang.

Malnutrition challenges

Child malnutrition has also emerged as a major challenge. The district hospital in Batouri is overwhelmed with the number of malnourished refugee children it is receiving on a daily basis.

“Since mid-March we have received about 200 severely malnourished children, mostly under the age of 5. Of these, 25 children have succumbed to their conditions so far,” says Wassou Madeleine of the malnutrition unit at the Batouri district hospital.

Plan is also trying to mobilise resources to address the issue of malnutrition among refugee children. “The number of deaths related to malnutrition among children is unbearable,” says Tatangang.

*Name has been changed.