From Judex Okoro, Calabar
Community leaders and youth have sounded the alarm over the illegal activities of Cameroonian refugees in communities in Cross River State.
Senior government officials have also denounced the influx of Cameroonian refugees into the state, saying it is capable of causing humanitarian crises in host communities.
Statistics obtained from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) showed that more than 40,000 Cameroonian refugees migrated to the communities of Etung, Ikom, Boki, Obudu and Ogoja in the central and northern senatorial districts. of State.
Daily Sun investigations have revealed that the growing influx of these refugees into Cross River communities is the result of the escalating Anglophone crisis in Cameroon since 2020, which began in 2016 with a peaceful protest by lawyers and of teachers demanding language reforms, and escalated into large-scale violent conflict, creating humanitarian crises, displacing over a million Cameroonians and forcing onward migration to neighboring communities in Nigeria.
These refugees are said to be living in inhumane conditions, even as the UN refugee agency has supported the Cross River State government by distributing goods, food, medicine, tools and agricultural equipment.
This development has raised concerns among some community leaders, who are uncomfortable with the influx of migrants from Southern Cameroons. They noted that in addition to creating humanitarian crises, the rate of crime and other illegal activities are increasing within host communities.
A community leader in Ikom, Ntufam Joseph Monjok, said they thought the refugees would only stay for a while and then leave after the crisis in their country normalized, but the refugees came to stay permanently. and have no intention of returning to their country. soon.
Monjok, 54, who sells cocoa, said the crime rate in the community was on the rise following the arrival of migrants, mostly women and young children susceptible to criminal activity.
According to him, the women have adapted and are “engaged in prostitution to survive, just as some of them have even married our men without proper papers”.
He claimed that some of them are already posing security risks to the state and the nation, as they engage in all sorts of activities, legal and illegal, to make ends meet.
Also complaining about the negative attitude of some refugees in Ogoja, Chief Micheal Ogar said that some of the migrants from Cameroon have formed themselves into a small working group and are now terrorizing people at night and even harvesting crops illegally in the villages. people’s farms.
Ogar said: “We received cases of harassment and assault against our farmers, mostly women, perpetrated by the young refugees and we reported to the security guards in Ogoja, but nothing came of it.
“We in Ogoja are afraid of the illegal activities of some of these refugees, as some of them have even left the camp located in the Adagom clan and settled in nearby communities, where they have rented houses from them. themselves, thanks to the support of the UN no longer comes.
A youth leader working with the UN has revealed that the state government and the UN can no longer deal with refugees in Cross River due to lack of funds as more refugees continue to flood into the country than expected. He added that the program was not for a lifetime but temporary.
A community leader from Adagom, who did not want his name printed, said: “The UN initially paid 7,000 naira to each refugee and provided them with foodstuffs such as rice, garri and beans for over one year. But they stopped due to lack of funds, thus causing hunger and starvation. Thus, a good number of them left the camp and went to town, while a few returned to Cameroon.
“But in an attempt to sustain the program, the UN came up with another way by training them in small-scale farming at Adagom. After the training, they allocated small plots and provided them with seedling crops such as carrots, tomatoes and okra. But the agricultural program was not sustainable and the UN seems to have backed down.
“Currently there are very few in the camp as some of them have dispersed to Bekwarra and Yala and have rented their own homes and are now living freely with their host communities. But even at that, new refugees are still arriving in the town of Ogoja and these are just hanging around. We call for intervention to see how some of them can be tracked down and returned to their countries before they pose a greater security risk. So that’s the situation we found ourselves in with the refugees.
Also admitting that the flow of refugees, especially from Cameroon, continues to increase, the Managing Director of the Cross River State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), Mr. Princewill Ayim, revealed that , out of 70,000 refugees in the country, more than 38,000 they are in various settlements in some parts of the state.
“Refugees who prefer to leave settlements, formerly known as refugee camps, to join communities are free to do so. It’s normal. It is also optional. We do not force them against their will. For now, some of the refugees have blended into bordering Nigerian communities to fend for themselves.
Ayim explained that those classified as “urban refugees” are those who do not necessarily need protection or assistance from SEMA, UNHCR or the National Committee for Refugees, as they are comfortable, manage their business and are often asylum seekers, adding that “only those who have crossed borders during crises for safety and seeking protection are the ones they register and extend their support.
Also decrying the influx of refugees into the state during a Children of Rural Africa, Nigeria (COR Africa) workshop recently held at the Transcorp Hotel, Calabar, the Managing Director of the Cross River State, Migration and Control Agency Prince Mike Abua said it is high time the federal government and the International Commission for Migrants, Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons conduct a thorough investigation in the state for determined the number of migrants, refugees and internally displaced persons.
Speaking on the theme “Agribusiness and Education Opportunities for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced People,” Abua said it would be easy to create a database to enable the government to have a full understanding of the actual numbers of migrants and refugees in Cross River.
He added that the database would also help the government plan ahead in terms of infrastructure and facilities that can provide assistance to refugees and internally displaced people.
“We have an influx of thousands of refugees because of the civil war in Cameroon, it is overwhelming. This is not something that state governments alone can handle. We also call on UNHCR to stand by us in enhancing the good work it has done, and IOM and other international organizations to provide funding and response. We call for increased international funding to help these people.”
During a recent courtesy visit to the Commissioner for the International Development Corporation, MIDC, Dr Iiyang Asibong, in Calabar, the Head of the UNHCR Sub-Office in Ogoja, Mr Tesfaye Bekele revealed that there was had issues of starvation, displacement and lack of medicine despite government support and intervention for the displaced people in the state.
Bekele, who later donated personal protective equipment and other materials to Cross River State to support the fight against COVID-19 in refugee camps through the Health Commissioner, the Dr. Beta Edu, in order to assist the government’s efforts to ensure the refugees have good health, commended the state government for its commitment to provide humanitarian services to the migrants.
He promised to work in synergy with the Coordinating Ministry and other MDAs to deliver their mandate to the people in line with the vision and mission of the organization. Some of the donated items were antiseptics, face masks, theater gloves and aprons, among others.