Cameroon + 1 more

Nigerian Refugees Prefer Camp Hardships to Boko Haram Terrorism at Home

Moki Edwin Kindzeka

YAOUNDE, CAMEROON— Nigerian refugees who fled the Boko Haram insurgency into northern Cameroon are turning down calls by Cameroon and Nigerian authorities for them to return, saying they do not expect to find peace back home.

Umar Muhamed, a schoolteacher at the Minawao refugee camp, said he would not return until the Boko Haram terrorist group was completely crushed.

"I left Nigeria because of Boko Haram," he said. "They were killing us. I escaped, and then I am still alive. Life here now is better than that we left in Nigeria, because in Nigeria now we are chased like animals, being killed as nothing."

The overburdened refugee camp has about 50 births each month, and many refugees continue to arrive. Among the latest is Kanem Mohammad, 42.

He said he escaped from the northern Nigerian town of Damaturu when his family was attacked five months ago, thinking he would find peace, but he instead saw thousands of bodies on his way to Minawao this month.

"They killed about 15 people in my village that night," Mohammad said. "They came to our house; they attacked our house. I had to jump the fence. Really, it was hell. In Maiduguri, I saw more than 3,000 corpses before I could run [escape].

"When we came here, we had no hope of having anything, thinking that what was happening in Nigeria was to escalate to this place. As we came here, fortunately, the UNHCR took good care of us, and because of the insurgency that is continuing in Nigeria, people come in every day."

Assistance falls short

When U.N. refugee chief Antonio Guterres visited the camp a year ago, he said he asked for $71 million to assist displaced people in Nigeria and neighboring countries, but had received only $6.8 million in donations.

Cameroon's minister of territorial administration, Rene Emmanuel Sadi, said Cameroon was asking the refugees from areas where there is already peace to return because their humanitarian needs are growing more than Cameroon can handle.

He said that after working with humanitarian agencies, human rights groups and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Cameroon requested that Nigeria begin a progressive repatriation of the refugees. He said he's waiting for the movement to begin.

Nigeria's interior minister, Abdulrahman Dambazau, said his country is ready to receive the refugees, but that most of them prefer to stay back because they have family members in Cameroon.

"We are looking at it from the point of view of cultural affinity among border communities, to ensure that we do not give room for arms merchants to smuggle arms into our countries," Dambazau said.

Since December, regional forces from Chad, Cameroon, Nigeria, Niger and Benin have been launching raids on Boko Haram strongholds along the border, provoking huge movements of people.

The United Nations and Amnesty International say Boko Haram's six-year insurgency has killed more than 20,000 people and displaced 2.5 million.