UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is alarmed over a fresh incident of forced returns of refugees from Cameroon into northeast Nigeria. This follows similar incidents earlier in the year, and more recently, repeated warnings that refugees are returning to a dangerous situation in which conditions do not yet exist to make returns safe and sustainable.
"The involuntary return of refugees must be avoided under any circumstances," said UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi. "In addition, returns to Nigeria put a strain on the few existing services and are not sustainable at this time. A new emergency, just as the rainy season is starting, has to be avoided at all costs".
In the latest incident, on Tuesday (June 27), some 887 Nigerian refugees, most of them children, were repatriated in six trucks provided by the Nigerian military and Cameroonian police from the Kolofata border site. The refugees were rounded up at 19:30 local time and forcibly removed to Banki in Nigeria in desperate conditions.
UNHCR remains very concerned for the children. We also understand that several dozen refugees, fearing that they would be returned against their will, escaped and went into hiding.
The incident follows concerns raised by UNHCR in March over incidents of forced return from the border areas. More recently, the agency warned that large numbers of refugees were returning from Minawao camp to conditions dangerously unprepared to receive them. The latest incident happened after Cameroon gave the refugees seven days' notice on June 19 to return.
Inside Nigeria, insecurity is preventing refugees from returning to their places of origin. Many end up in Banki where more than 45,000 internally displaced men, women and children are already barely accommodated – many without shelter, in conditions of severe overcrowding and without basic facilities such as drinking water, sanitation and health facilities.
UNHCR has repeated its appeal to the authorities in Cameroon to allow newly arrived Nigerian refugees to reach Minawao camp, where some 58,000 are currently being hosted, with another 33,000 living in nearby villages.
UNHCR renews its call on Cameron and Nigeria to refrain from further forced returns and calls on both parties to take urgent steps to convene a meeting of the Tripartite Commission, established under a recent agreement with UNHCR to ensure a facilitated voluntary return process in line with international standards.
The UN Refugee Agency recalls the importance of all States to ensure international protection for all those fleeing insecurity and persecution in northeast Nigeria.