Cameroon, Nigeria and the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) have signed a deal for the voluntary repatriation of the Nigerian victims of the Boko Haram currently living in Cameroon.
The tripartite agreement followed the arrival of a United Nations Security Council (UNSC) mission in Cameroon in a bid to draw international attention to the crisis wreaked on the Lake Chad region by the Boko Haram insurgency.
The legal framework for the voluntary return of the refugees “in safety and dignity” followed complaints that Cameroon was expelling Nigerians fleeing attacks by the jihadist group.
According to reports confirmed by UNHCR, Yaoundé authorities deported 517 Nigerians, including ‘313 asylum seekers’, escaping Boko Haram assaults between February 10 and 15 after their arrest, in total disregard of international conventions.
Africa Review reports that Cameroon’s Territorial Administration and Decentralisation minister, Mr Emmanuel Rene Sadi, inked the deal on behalf of President Paul Biya’s government.
He said Yaoundé would continue to ensure protection of Nigerian refugees on its territory.
“And will spare no efforts to help those who wish to return to Nigeria in accordance with international agreements.”
More than 85,000 Boko Haram fleeing Nigerians are settled in Cameroon’s Far North region with 62,000 registered at the Minawao refugee camp, according to UNHCR.
UNHCR believes there were thousands more who had not been reached by aid agencies “because of the prevailing insecurity” in their host localities.
A UNHCR survey conducted at the Minawao camp in September 2016 showed 7 per cent of 9,300 sampled individuals were willing to return as soon as the situation in their areas of origin, predominantly in northeastern Nigeria, was conducive.
The signatories also established a tripartite commission that will oversee the implementation of the pact.
The UNHCR representatives in Cameroon said the agency was delighted with the deal which was a demonstration of “a real desire” by both countries to find a long-lasting solution for refugees willing to return in safety and dignity.
Boko Haram launched its insurgency in 2009 aiming to create an Islamic state in northeastern Nigeria, but has since spread its mutiny to neighbouring Lake Chad Basin countries.
Though the crisis was greatest in northeast Nigeria, the UN estimates that internally displaced people and refugees from the conflict totalled 262,000 in Cameroon’s far north, 127,000 in Chad and 241,000 in Niger.
A UN Security Council delegation was currently visiting the region.