UNHCR chief puts spotlight on Central African refugees in Cameroon

News Stories, 5 March 2010

© UNHCR/F.Kpatindé
UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres receives gifts bananas and a small drum from the Mbororo refugees in Bolembe.

BERTOUA, Cameroon, March 5 (UNHCR) UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres has visited Mbororo refugees from the Central African Republic in a bid to focus world attention on the "forgotten tragedy" of these people sheltering in Cameroon.

Guterres met and talked to some of the refugees during visits this week to Mandjou and Boulembe settlements, which are located 350 kilometres east of the Cameroon capital, Yaoundé, and together house some 3,000 refugees.

"I am here to show my gratitude to the people and government of Cameroon [for hosting more than 100,000 refugees and asylum-seekers from about 30 countries, including 80,880 from the neighbouring Central African Republic]," Guterres said during his visit to Mandjou, where he received a colourful welcome.

The High Commissioner stressed that he had also decided to visit the Central African refugees "to draw the attention of the international community to the forgotten tragedy of the Mbororo refugees." Guterres said he hoped that peace and democracy would be restored in their country, which he was due to visit from Friday.

The Mbororos are mainly nomadic cattle breeders from the west and north-west of the Central African Republic. Those fleeing to Cameroon since 2005 say that their people have been targeted by organized groups of bandits and rebels who steal their cattle and kidnap their women and children for ransom.

They live in dozens of settlements in eastern Cameroon, making it difficult for UNHCR staff based in the town of Bertoua to monitor their situation, register new arrivals and distribute aid. The government of Cameroon recognizes this population as prima facie refugees.

During his visit to the settlement at Bolembe, home to some 1,150 Mbororos, Guterres expressed his admiration for the refugees, who told him that they lived in peaceful co-existence with the local population. "We have been living together for several years, sharing water, classrooms and infrastructure," refugee Aliou Nassé told him.

Guterres also met Hadja Adama, a dignified mother of 11 with a harrowing story. Aged 45, she looks much older after a life of hardship. She fled to Boulembe five years ago with her children after her husband was killed in the Central African Republic by cattle rustlers. She now struggles to raise her children as well as the four offspring of her brother, who died suddenly after a short illness.

Guterres was clearly moved by her story. "It is a shame that such tragedy goes unnoticed. It is urgent to make the international community face its responsibilities. These people have gone through an unimaginable ordeal," he said. "And the end of the tunnel is not near because there is no sign that the security situation has improved enough for people to think about returning to the Central African Republic."

A UNHCR registration exercise conducted last October testified to a steady influx and an increase in the number of refugees from across the border over the previous year.

In Cameroon, their host country, problems also exist. The refugees and their host communities join their voices to complain about shortages of clean water, not enough classrooms and the distance of health clinics. "These are problems we are trying to solve with our limited resources," said Aida Haile Mariam, UNHCR's representative in Cameroon. "The High Commissioner's visit is an opportunity to further draw the attention of the international community to the plight of the Central African refugees."

Before heading to Central African Republic, Guterres held talks with senior Cameroonian officials, including President Paul Biya and Prime Minister Philemon Yang.

By Francis Kpatindé in Bertoua, Cameroon

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The High Commissioner

António Guterres, who joined UNHCR on June 15, 2005, is the UN refugee agency's 10th High Commissioner.

Crisis in the Central African Republic

Little has been reported about the humanitarian crisis in the northern part of the Central African Republic (CAR), where at least 295,000 people have been forced out of their homes since mid-2005. An estimated 197,000 are internally displaced, while 98,000 have fled to Chad, Cameroon or Sudan. They are the victims of fighting between rebel groups and government forces.

Many of the internally displaced live in the bush close to their villages. They build shelters from hay, grow vegetables and even start bush schools for their children. But access to clean water and health care remains a huge problem. Many children suffer from diarrhoea and malaria but their parents are too scared to take them to hospitals or clinics for treatment.

Cattle herders in northern CAR are menaced by the zaraguina, bandits who kidnap children for ransom. The villagers must sell off their livestock to pay.

Posted on 21 February 2008

Crisis in the Central African Republic

Silent Success

Despite being chased from their homes in the Central African Republic and losing their livelihoods, Mbororo refugees have survived by embracing a new way of life in neighbouring Cameroon.

The Mbororo, a tribe of nomadic cattle herders from Central African Republic, started fleeing their villages in waves in 2005, citing insecurity as well as relentless targeting by rebel groups and bandits who steal their cattle and kidnap women and children for ransom.

They arrived in the East and Adamaoua provinces of Cameroon with nothing. Though impoverished, the host community welcomed the new arrivals and shared their scant resources. Despite this generosity, many refugees died of starvation or untreated illness.

Help arrived in 2007, when UNHCR and partner agencies began registering refugees, distributing food, digging and rehabilitating wells as well as building and supplying medical clinics and schools, which benefit refugees and the local community and promote harmony between them. The Mbororo were eager to learn a new trade and set up farming cooperatives. Though success didn't come immediately, many now make a living from their crops.

Mbororo refugees continue to arrive in Central African Republic - an average of 50 per month. The long-term goal is to increase refugees' self-reliance and reduce their dependency on humanitarian aid.

Silent Success

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The escalating violence in Central African Republic (CAR) has caught everyone in its web, including refugees from countries such as Chad, Cameroon and Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). For the Congolese living in places like the CAR capital, Bangui, or the town of Batalimo, home was just a short trip away across the Oubangui River. UNHCR earlier this year agreed to help those who wished to repatriate due to fear for their safety. The refugee agency has since mid-January facilitated the return home of hundreds of these refugees. The following photographs, taken earlier this month by UNHCR staff members Dalia Al Achi and Hugo Reichenberger, depict the repatriation of a group of 364 Congolese. The refugees portrayed were heading to the riverside town of Zongo in Democratic Republic of the Congo's Equateur province, where they spent a night in a transit centre before continuing to their hometowns. They were relieved to be leaving, and some were in poor health. The decision to return to the country they had fled during the years of civil war from 1996-2003 was not easy. Some 6,000 of the 17,000 Congolese refugees in Central African Republic have registered with UNHCR to go home.

Central African Republic: Crossing the Oubangui to Home and Safety

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