By Michael Olugbode in Maiduguri
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has called on Nigerian and Cameroonian governments to suspend the “ill-timed” repatriation of Nigerian refugees numbering about 150,000 at camps in Northern Cameroon.
UNHCR warned that the execution of this plan spell doom for about 26 million displaced persons on the Africa continent.
The Cameroonian government after signing a tripartite agreement with Nigeria in March, 2017 had repatriated about 15,000 Nigerian refugees who fled their homelands at the peak of the ongoing Boko Haram crisis.
“The lives of this repatriated Nigerians are at risk as they are presently accommodated at IDP camps in Banki and Gwoza towns in Borno State which are not totally free from Boko Haram attacks,” remarked UNHCR.
Speaking yesterday during a meeting to discuss the impending dangers the forced return of Nigerian refugees portends in Maiduguri, the UNHCR Regional representative, Liz Ahua urged all humanitarian bodies to be concerned about the emergencies which the return of the refugees may create.
She said: “The return of the refugees is not actually the problem but our concern should be that we do not have another emergency in our hands where the refugees now become part of the huge number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).”
Ahua said if Cameroon and Nigeria go ahead with the “forceful” repatriation of the Nigerian refugees, a dangerous precedent may be set where other African countries would ask refugees on their soil to leave.
She said though the position of Cameroon may be understood in the face of 14 attacks in the extreme parts of Northern Cameroon which has led to agitations that the Nigerian refugees should be exited, but Cameroon cannot be allowed to use security as an excuse to violent the Convention on asylum which stated that safety, voluntariness and dignity should be considered before refugees are returned to their homelands.
Ahua said there are rules guiding repatriation of refugees and signing of tripartite agreement should not be used as an excuse to forcefully extradite them.
She said the UNHCR is presently talking to the Cameroon government to rescind her decision, “but if this does not yield result, we are going to make public statements.”