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UNHCR addresses alarming health situation of refugees in Cameroon

Making a Difference, 14 March 2014

© UNHCR/D.Mbaiorem
One of the many malnourished children arriving in eastern Cameroon from Central African Republic.

NGAOUI, Cameroon, March 14 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency and its partners have stepped up efforts to help the growing numbers of Central African refugees arriving ill in Cameroon due to hunger and exhaustion during their arduous flight.

Most of the new arrivals have spent weeks living in the bush without access to sufficient water and food and have walked great distances to reach safety in the eastern Cameroon. An estimated 80 per cent are suffering from serious ailments such as malaria, diarrhoea, anaemia and respiratory infections, while more than 20 per cent of children are severely malnourished.

Many families have lost relatives to hunger along the way or shortly after reaching Cameroon. They are also traumatized by the horrors they experienced in north-west Central African Republic, where Anti-Balaka militias have been targeting Muslims in revenge attacks.

Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba, a UNHCR spokesperson, said the refugee agency and its partners had taken important steps to improve the welfare and health of the desperate new arrivals. "We have moved nearly 10,000 refugees who were sleeping out in the open to settlements we have established close to the villages of Lolo, Mborguene, Borgop and Gado. There, they receive food, clean drinking water, family shelters and basic relief items."

She added that UNHCR had stepped up assistance in border areas and deployed emergency staff, including nutrition specialists and site planners. "We have funded health posts and mobile clinics in Kenzou as well as Ngaoui, Yamba and Gbatoua-Godoli in the neighbouring Adamawa region. We have also erected community shelters and latrines in Garoua Boulai and Kenzou to house women, children and elderly people."

But despite these emergency efforts, more needs to be done to cover all the needs. "We will require more donor support to expand facilities in Garoua Boulai and Kenzou and to turn them into transit centres where all arrivals can be medically screened and treated without delay. We will also be able to provide food and non-food assistance in order to avert further deaths," Lejeune-Kaba said, adding that nobody had died in the refugee sites to date.

One of the challenges facing medical workers is that people do not realize how serious malnutrition is and the importance of going straight to UNHCR or its partners for help. "We have observed that many families with malnourished children do not come to health consultations," said Dago Inegba, a UNHCR doctor.

Before the current crisis, Cameroon was hosting 92,000 refugees from the Central African Republic, who started to arrive in 2004 to escape from rebel groups and bandits in the north of their country. Since March last year, Cameroon has received more than 44,200 refugees from the Central African Republic. New arrivals are living with host families or sheltering in mosques, churches, a stadium or in makeshift sites. Some are sleeping out in the open.

By Djerassem Mbaiorem in Ngaoui, Cameroon

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Victims of Conflict in Nigeria Find Safety in Cameroon Camp

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres visited Cameroon in late March to put a spotlight on the situation there of tens of thousands of refugees from Nigeria. These people have escaped mounting violence by insurgents in the north-east of their country. Among the places that Guterres visited during his March 24-25 visit is the Minawao Refugee Camp, where many of the uprooted have been relocated.

Situated some 120 kilometres from the dangerous border area with Nigeria in Cameroon's Far North region, Minawao camp is currently home to 33,000 Nigerian refugees, mainly from Borno state. Many of the arrivals are traumatized and in need of material and psycho-social help. They told the High Commissioner of losing their homes and belongings as well as members of their families. Some were injured. In total, an estimated 74,000 Nigerians have found refuge in Cameroon while cross-border incursions from Nigeria have displaced 96,000 Cameroonians. UNHCR photographer Hélène Caux also visited Minawao to hear the individual stories.

Victims of Conflict in Nigeria Find Safety in Cameroon Camp

Edwige Deals With Loss by Keeping Busy and Aiding Others in Mole Camp

Edwige Kpomako is a woman in a hurry; but her energy also helps the refugee from Central African Republic (CAR) to cope with the tragedy that forced her to flee to northern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) last year. Before violence returned to her country in 2012, the 25-year-old was studying for a Masters in American literature in Bangui, and looking forward to the future. "I started my thesis on the works of Arthur Miller, but because of the situation in CAR . . . ," she said, her voice trailing off. Instead, she had to rush to the DRC with a younger brother, but her fiancée and 10-year old son were killed in the inter-communal violence in CAR.

After crossing the Oubangui River to the DRC, Edwige was transferred to Mole, a camp housing more than 13,000 refugees. In a bid to move on with her life and keep busy, she started to help others, assume a leadership role and take part in communal activities, including the Brazilian martial art of capoeira. She heads the women's committee, is engaged in efforts to combat sexual violence, and acts as a liaison officer at the health centre. She also teaches and runs a small business selling face creams. "I discovered that I'm not weak," said Edwige, who remains optimistic. She is sure that her country will come out of its nightmare and rebuild, and that she will one day become a human rights lawyer helping refugees.

American photojournalist Brian Sokol took these photos.

Edwige Deals With Loss by Keeping Busy and Aiding Others in Mole Camp

New refugees from Central African Republic struggle with ration cuts in southern Chad

Since January 2014, a funding shortfall has forced the World Food Programme (WFP) to cut food rations by 60 per cent in refugee camps in southern Chad. The reduction comes as thousands of refugees from Central African Republic (CAR) continue to arrive in the south - more than 14,000 of them since the beginning of 2014. Many arrive sick, malnourished and exhausted after walking for months in the bush with little food or water. They join some 90,000 other CAR refugees already in the south - some of them for years.

The earlier refugees have been able to gain some degree of self-reliance through agriculture or employment, thus making up for some of the food cuts. But the new arrivals, fleeing the latest round of violence in their homeland, are facing a much harsher reality. And many of them - particularly children - will struggle to survive because WFP has also been forced cut the supplemental feeding programmes used to treat people trying to recover from malnutrition.

WFP needs to raise US$ 186 million to maintain feeding programmes for refugees in Africa through the end of the year. Additionally, UNHCR is urgently seeking contributions towards the US$ 78 million it has budgeted this year for food security and nutrition programmes serving refugees in Africa.

Photojournalist Corentin Fohlen and UNHCR Public Information Officer Céline Schmitt visited CAR refugees in southern Chad to document their plight and how they're trying to cope.

New refugees from Central African Republic struggle with ration cuts in southern Chad

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Cameroon: Escape from Nigeria

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