Over 2,600 refugees have been forcefully returned back to Nigeria against their will by Cameroonian government this year, the United Nations Refugee Agency has said.
The UNHCR said these forceful returns have continued unabated after the governments of Nigeria and Cameroon signed a tripartite agreement with UNHCR.
The agreement, which was signed earlier this month, says returns of refugees would be “voluntary and when conditions were conducive.”
Cameroonian troops returned refugees against their will – without allowing them time to collect their belongings, a statement from the UNHCR quoted the agency’s spokesperson, Babar Baloch, as saying.
“In one incident on March 4, some 26 men, and 27 women and children, were sent back from the Cameroonian border town of Amtide, in Kolofata district, where they had sought refuge, according to UNHCR monitoring teams in the border regions,” said Baloch, who spoke at a press briefing in Geneva.
He said those returned included a one-year-old child and a nine-month pregnant woman, who gave birth the day after her arrival to a camp for displaced people in Banki.
“During the chaos, families were separated and some women were forced to leave their young children behind in Cameroon, including a child less than three years old,” he said.
About 17 people, who claimed to be Cameroonian nationals, were also deported by mistake to Banki, he added.
“While acknowledging the generosity of the Government of Cameroon and local communities who host over 85,000 Nigerian refugees, UNHCR calls on the Government of Cameroon to honour its obligations under international and regional refugee protection instruments, as well as Cameroonian law.
“The forced return of asylum seekers and refugees is refoulement, or forced return, and constitutes a serious violation of the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1969 OAU Convention, both of which Cameroon has ratified,” Baloch said.
In 2016, about 338 Nigerian asylum-seekers, mainly women and children, were returned by the Cameroonian authorities of the Far North region from Kolofata back to Nigeria.
The incident occurred just days after Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria adopted the Abuja Action Statement on protection in the Lake Chad Basin crisis, and reaffirmed among others, the importance of the principle of non-refoulement (non-return).
The agency called on the Cameroonian authorities to take the necessary steps to comply with international standards on the right to asylum and protection from refoulement.
Source: Daily trust