More than 35,000 Nigerians have crossed into Cameroon in recent weeks following an upsurge in violence around the northeast Nigerian town of Rann. Having arrived in the village of Goura in Cameroon’s far northwest, they are in urgent need of food, shelter and water, warns international medical organisation Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), which has launched an emergency response.
“They left on foot very early in the morning – women, children and elderly people,” says MSF deputy programme manager for emergencies Dr. Silas Adamou Moussa. “When they fled, they had to leave elderly and sick relatives behind. They brought along what possessions they could, but in Goura they have nothing to drink and nowhere to sleep. They have been left to fend for themselves.”
The refugees have been staying in a large, informal camp in Goura since late January. Most are sleeping in the open, even though it is sandstorm season and the temperature drops sharply at night.
The uncertainty surrounding whether these refugees will be resettled or returned to Nigeria prevents humanitarian assistance from being as complete and effective as it should be.
MSF has set up a clinic in the camp. Over the past two weeks, MSF medical staff have provided more than 400 consultations. Thirty-five percent of these were for infectious respiratory diseases, followed by diarrhoea and conjunctivitis, all of which are related to the refugees’ poor living conditions.
Access to safe drinking water has been a major problem in the camp. MSF has progressively increased its provision of drinking water along with that of other providers to 240,000 litres per day. This is equivalent to 7 litres per person per day, which is still far below the 15-litre minimum standard for emergencies.
“This is not the first time that people from Rann have had to flee to Cameroon,” says Dr. Moussa. “The first time, some of them returned home after having fled, but not this time. They don’t want to go back to Rann unless they know they can live safely, yet their future here is also uncertain. They are afraid. Their children are afraid.”