THE Southern Cameroon Legal Assistance Network (SC-LANE) has asked the governments of Nigeria and Cameroon to respect the rights of Southern Cameroonians who are seeking asylum in Nigeria.
There are currently more than 30,000 refugees registered by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Nigerian Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons (NCRMIDP).
Counsel to the Southern Cameroonian refugees in Nigeria, Abdul Oroh, who is also the Coordinator of SC-LANE told The ICIR on the occasion of World Refugee Day that the two countries must work to ensure the safety of the refugees, noting that no one deserves to be called ‘illegal refugee.’
He emphasized that governments of both countries must respect the UN Charter on Safety of Refugees particularly, Convention Relating to Status of Refugees.
Oroh lamented that despite an Abuja Federal High Court ruling in March 2019 ordering the release of 10 detained leaders of Southern Cameroon by the Paul Biya led Francophone Cameroon government, they are still being kept in Kondengui Prison Principale, Yaounde, Cameroon.
“It is sad that despite the ruling given by Justice Chikere Anwuli of Abuja Federal High Court that these men be released, they are still kept in the prison,” Oroh said.
He stressed that the Justice in the verdict described the detained Southern Cameroonian leaders as ‘retornists’ as against secessionists that the government called them.
On January 5, 2018, 12 leaders of the Southern Cameroon Ambazonia Interim Government led by Sisiku Ayuktabe Julius were meeting at NERA Hotel, Jabi, Abuja to discuss the refugees’ situation and a surge in violence when they were arrested by Nigerian security operatives.
The UNHCR office in Abuja was outraged by the abduction and drew the attention of the Nigerian government to their international obligations under article 33 of the Geneva Convention that protects the rights of refugees and prohibits refoulment, which is expulsion or return of refugees to hostile territory.
While two of the arrested Southern Cameroonian leaders who claimed Nigerian citizenship were transferred to the police custody, the remaining 10 were deported to Cameroon on January 25, 2018, where they have since been tried by a Military Tribunal.
The SC-LANE coordinator further lamented that the whereabouts of 37 Cameroonian refugees picked up at random on December 31, 2017, in Gembu, Taraba State by Nigerian soldiers is still unknown.
There have continued to be an influx of Southern Cameroonians into Nigeria since the Paul Biya-led government clamped down on members of Southern Cameroon Nigeria Council (SCNC) and the Southern Cameroon Ambazonia United Front (SCACUF) who declared independence on October 1, 2017.
The International Crisis Group (ICG) estimated that about 246,000 people have fled the South West region alone with about 25,000 believed to have fled to Nigeria occupying 50 locations in Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Benue and Abuja.