By Lisa Schlein
The UN refugee agency denounces the latest forcible deportations of Nigerian refugees to violence-prone Borno State by Cameroon, calling it a violation of international law.
The UN refugee agency says it is alarmed at what appears to be an unsettling pattern of forced returns. So far this year, the UNHCR reports Cameroon has forcibly deported 385 Nigerians to Borno State, the majority of them this month.
Most recently, the agency reports 118 Nigerian asylum seekers were forcibly returned on April 17. Just a week earlier, on April 10, 160 Nigerian refugees and asylum-seekers were deported.
UNHCR Regional spokesman for West Africa, Romain Desclous, says the April 17 group had arrived in Cameroon only two days earlier, having fled violence by the militant Boko Haram. On a line from Dakar, Senegal, he tells VOA it is shocking for people to be returned to face the same risks from which they have fled.
“We are concerned it has happened this month twice already,” said Desclous. “We were concerned and alarmed that it had happened several times in the past 12 months. So, we had shared our concern with the government and the authorities that this is something that is in contravention with international and even national obligations. And we are working with the Cameroonian authorities to make sure it does not happen again.”
Desclous says refugee returns should be voluntary and should only take place when conditions are conducive for their safe return. He says this is not the case in Borno State, which is still wracked by violence.
He commends Cameroon for its generosity in hosting 87,600 Nigerian refugees as well as another 240,000 refugees from Central African Republic.
He recognizes Cameroon has legitimate security concerns stemming from the Boko Haram crisis. But, he notes this does not exempt the government from its obligation to protect people fleeing insecurity and persecution.