Cameroon forces refugees back, compounding the crisis
MAIDUGURI, NIGERIA/NEW YORK, APRIL 19, 2017—Violence and insecurity in Nigeria's Borno state continue to force wave upon wave of people to flee to remote towns, while Cameroon is forcibly returning refugees to the region, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said today.
Over 11,300 people have arrived since January in Pulka, close to the Cameroonian border, and this has brought the total population of the town to more than 42,000, placing further pressure on already overstretched resources to care for the displaced.
In Banki, another remote town close to the Cameroonian border, MSF witnessed Nigerians who had sought safety in Cameroon being returned to their country by the Cameroonian military on several occasions in 2016 and 2017.
"We had been living in Kolofata (Cameroon) for more than a year, and one day they just decided to send people back to Nigeria without explanation," said one 35-year-old Nigerian refugee in Banki. "We did not ask them to return us to our country: they forced us. We didn't have a choice."
Patients in Pulka also told MSF how they had left Cameroon for fear of being forcibly pushed back.
In the isolated town of Rann, people continue to arrive daily and the town's population has grown by at least 10,000 in the past three months. MSF was providing medical care in Rann when it was hit by a Nigerian military aerial bombardment on January 17, killing at least 90 people and wounding hundreds. MSF teams have since recently returned to the town.
"The humanitarian situation in Rann is becoming increasingly critical as newly displaced continue to arrive," said Silas Adamou, MSF project coordinator. "The most urgent needs now are health care, shelter and water. There are no functional permanent health facilities in the town and there is no capacity to treat people who need hospital care. Insecurity makes it too dangerous to travel elsewhere for care. Falling sick in Rann is almost a death sentence."
In Dikwa, a town in the northeast of Borno, more than 2,000 newly displaced were registered in the last two weeks of March alone.
"Large movements of populations continue almost daily, due to attacks by Boko Haram, military operations and people searching for food and basic services," said Himedan Mohamed, MSF head of mission in Nigeria.
The people who arrive in the bigger towns of Pulka, Rann, or Dikwa are mostly from areas inaccessible to humanitarian organizations. They are vulnerable, often in a poor state of health, and almost entirely dependent on aid. They cannot sustain themselves because the movement restrictions enforced by the military make farming almost impossible.
"These people face growing needs for shelter, food, and water," said Gabriel Sánchez, MSF's operational manager for Nigeria. "If this is not addressed and people continue to arrive, the situation will quickly deteriorate even further."
With the exception of a few towns, most of the eastern countryside of Borno state remains out of reach for aid organizations due to insecurity. Aid agencies work largely in the state capital, Maiduguri, and only a few are able to operate in a continuous manner in eastern Borno where assistance is needed the most.
MSF has provided health care to people displaced by violence, as well host communities, in northeast Nigeria since mid-2014. The organization is currently managing 12 medical facilities in eight towns in Borno (Maiduguri, Dikwa, Monguno, Damboa, Gwoza, Pulka, Ngala, and Benisheikh) and regularly provides care in an additional four locations. Elsewhere in the country, including in Zamfara, Port Harcourt and Jahun, MSF continues to run extensive projects on child health and sexual and reproductive health, and also responds to medical emergencies such as meningitis and measles outbreaks. In the second half of 2016, MSF teams in Borno carried out 175,877 outpatient consultations, vaccinated 146,650 children against measles, assisted 3,218 births, and distributed food to 32,365 people.