Cameroon claims to have done it in order to curtail the spread of Boko Haram terrorists within its borders but in truth, that country’s deportation of one hundred thousand Nigerian refugees is unfriendly, unjustified and is hardly an act of good neighbourliness. The hapless Nigerian refugees had left their homes in Nigeria and fled into Cameroon precisely to escape from Boko Haram. And even if any of them is found wanting, the security agencies should deal with the individual but not to blame all of them and ship them unceremoniously back to Nigeria.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) in its new report revealed the deportation and said the deportation defied a plea by the UN refugee agency not to return anyone to north-eastern Nigeria where Boko Harm has killed thousands of people, until the security and human rights situation there has improved. According to the report, since early 2015 Cameroonian soldiers have tortured, assaulted and sexually exploited Nigerian asylum seekers in remote border areas, denied them access to the UN refugee agency and summarily deported, often violently, tens of thousands to Nigeria. It also documents violence, poor conditions and unlawful movement restrictions in Cameroon’s only official camp for Nigerian refugees, as well as conditions recent returnees face in Nigeria.
“The Cameroonian military’s torture and abuse of Nigerian refugees and asylum seekers seems to be driven by an arbitrary decision to punish them for Boko Haram attacks in Cameroon and to discourage Nigerians from seeking asylum,” said Gerry Simpson, Associate Refugee Director at Human Rights Watch. The convention for the status of refugees also known as the 1951 Refugee Convention is a United Nations treaty on who is a refugee, his status, his rights and the responsibility of the countries that grant asylum.
The convention states that ‘The contracting states shall not discriminate against refugees; take exceptional measures against a refugee solely on account of his or her nationality; expel refugees forcibly return or “refoul” refugees to the country they’ve fled from, among others.” Therefore from all indications Cameroon has violated the refugee convention and we condemn in totality the forceful return of the refugees, torture and sexual abuse. Even without the convention, refugees deserve special consideration of compassion as they leave their countries due to conflict and seek refuge. For them to be treated like criminals is inhuman, to put it mildly.
The Nigerian government on its part should monitor the situation of Nigerian refugees in neighbouring countries to ensure they are well taken care of, even though as the refugee convention stipulates refugees have rights on the countries of asylum. However that does not mean that Nigeria should look the other way while her citizens are treated badly, as if they are stateless where nobody lays a claim to them.
It should link up with the government of Cameroon in a diplomatic way through the National Commission of Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons to halt this maltreatment of Nigerians. And if necessary contribute in taking care of them.
If anything, this report is yet another reason for the government to accelerate the development of structures in the destroyed communities for the IDPs to go back.
Another vital factor after the military has reclaimed territories is for the government to restore civil authority. The communities need the presence of the police, civil defence and so on for their safety.
As without it they are vulnerable to pockets of attacks by the insurgents who are not totally obliterated and other criminal elements. The government needs the support of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian agencies in order to protect our citizens who were forced to flee to neighbouring countries and to help in their safe and orderly return home when the security situation is conducive.