SGN Blog

CAR’s refugees – between a rock and a hard place

Years of conflict in the Central African Republic has generated roughly half a million refugees. With over 100 residents of the nation’s capital, Bangui, killed between last September and November this past year, the violence is likely to continue and to generate further waves of citizens see

In just one month, over 20,000 refugees fled across the CAR border into Cameroon
In just one month, over 20,000 refugees fled across the CAR border into Cameroon

king refuge. Cameroon has become the preferred destination for these groups. Of the hundreds of thousands of refugees and asylum seekers residing in Cameroon, nationals of the Central African Republic comprise over half that population. Adequately accommodating such a massive influx has proved insurmountable for Cameroon and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

The agency recently admitted that an additional $345.7 million in funds were needed to aid the conflict’s refugees and the communities across Cameroon, Chad, and Niger that are currently hosting them. The UNHCR’s current target is to address the pressing needs of just under 250,000 Central Africans residing in Cameroon. The activities of Boko Haram have also put a further strain on these resources. Scores of Nigerians, hoping to escape the threat of terrorism, have also fled their home country for Cameroon, now becoming the second largest demographic among the host nation’s refugees. To make matters worse, Boko Haram’s spectre has followed them, as the group launched a quadruple suicide attack in the country’s north earlier this year.

The appalling condition of Cameroon’s refugee camps are proving too much to bear for their residents. Many from the CAR have insisted on leaving, due to lack of reliable food, schooling, and ample humanitarian assistance. However, the Cameroon government has warned they will arrest anyone caught deserting his or her designated camp. And they have kept their word. Women have ventured outward, looking for a means to provide for their children, only to be apprehended and forced back to where they came. Young men have tried their hand at laboring for Cameroonian landowners, only to be robbed of their pay and often times reported to the authorities. This absence of options is leading to growing insecurity and, in turn, stricter controls from the government.  The unstoppable force of a refugee’s will to survive and integrate has met its immovable object.

The best available, albeit temporary, solution is to provide the UNHCR with the requested level of funding. The difficult living conditions faced by those residing in eastern Cameroon could be ameliorated with better access to food, water, and other necessities. If camps could fully accommodate their residents, which the Cameroonian government appears either unable or unwilling to ensure, the porosity of their boundaries will no longer be an issue. Failing that, nothing short of a return to stability in the CAR will fix this ongoing refugee crisis.