Cameroon refugees struggle to cope with life of need in Nigeria

A deadly conflict between Cameroonian government forces and separatist fighters seeking independence for the mainly English-speaking Southwest and Northwest regions has left many schools closed for more than three years.

In late January, with the threat of further violence looming larger ahead of the February 9 parliamentary and municipal elections, Nga travelled across the border to Nigeria.

Nearly 8,000 new arrivals – some of whom struggled through dense forests and grasslands bleeding from gunshot wounds – crossed into Nigeria’s Cross River and Taraba states before the elections, according to the United Nations (UN) refugee agency, UNHCR.

What is commonly known as Cameroon’s Anglophone crisis was triggered by demonstrations by lawyers and teachers in 2016 over the rising influence of French in their education and legal systems.

With frustration over alleged political and economic marginalisation high, the protesters’ action soon morphed into wider demands and resulted in several strikes. Although talk of marginalisation is not new, the action by barristers and teachers became a rallying point for Anglophone Cameroonians who had voted to join the majority French Cameroon to form the United Republic of Cameroon in 1961.

The government’s military response failed to reduce tensions, as government forces were accused of carrying out arbitrary arrests and extrajudicial killings, among other abuses.

In response, a slew of separatist groups rose to fight back and demand independence.

Inside Cameroon, the UN estimates that the conflict has killed about 3,000 people and displaced more than 679,000 others in the Anglophone regions, which comprise 20 per cent of the country’s estimated 25 million population.

UNICEF, the UN’s children’s fund, estimates that more than 855,000 children remain out of school in the Anglophone regions where 80 per cent of schools remain closed.

Meanwhile, some 60,000 people have fled to neighbouring Nigeria, spread across the states of Akwa Ibom, Benue, Cross River and Taraba.

In Ajassor, in a windowless room packed with nearly a dozen children, Nga happily looks on as her children put on bright school uniforms and get ready to head to school.

She pays between 2,000 ($5.4) and 5,500 ($15) naira per child for the local school, which has accepted refugee children alongside their regular students. -Aljazeera

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