Thousands of persons displaced by Boko Haram attacks in northern Cameroon are in dire need of humanitarian assistance. But they have virtually been forgotten by the Paul Biya government whose attention is focused - rather disproportionately - on refugees.
Thanks to the extremist Islamic sect Boko Haram, the situation of Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs, especially women, girls and children in the far north of Cameroon has reached humanitarian crisis level. The dismal conditions under which the over 10,000 people who have fled their homes, thanks to Boko Haram in villages and communities neighbouring Nigeria is, to say the least, alarming.
A last week report on state-owned national radio and TV, CRTV, confirmed what has over the last few months been considered a rumour. The women who had fled their homes after their men were brutally murdered by the Islamist sect recount gloomy stories of the sights and scenes of the attacks.
Even though the entry of the multi-national force led by Chad has turned the battle around as heavy casualties have been inflicted on the insurgents thereby drastically minimizing their fire power, the situation of those who have been internally displaced is terrible as they have been abandoned to themselves both by the international community and the government of Cameroon in preference to refugees. Although it is well known that at war-time, the High Commissioner for Refugees takes care of refugees while the local government concentrates on the IDPs, Cameroonian authorities have since the start of the war preferred to take care of refugees to the detriment of the internally displaced.
Only recently, Cameroon’s Head of State Paul Biya assigned some 4 billion CFA for the building of schools and supply of basic equipment to the refugees while First Lady, Chantal Biya followed up with a 50 million CFA donation for the supply of sanitation equipment to the over 23,000 refugees mostly from Nigeria and Central Africa Republic.
During a recent fact-finding mission to the far north of Cameroon by the Cameroonian-American and C.E.O of The Formunyoh Foundation, TFF, who is also Regional Director of the National Democratic Institute, NDI, Dr. Christopher Formunhoh was scandalized to see that very little was done by Cameroon authorities to cater to the needs of the internally displaced persons, even as their situation was being described as ‘precarious’.
After elaborate discussions with local authorities in the north, Dr. Formunyoh went home with the idea that government did not even have full statistics of the IDPs in Cameroon following the outbreak of the war; talk less of their living conditions. After fielding questions on the reasons , local government officials simply told him the situation was complex because most of those displaced took refuge with friends and relations in distant villages in Logone and Shari Division.
Before leaving the far north of Cameroon, the Chief Executive Officer of The Formunyoh Foundation who came along with lots of assistance for the displaced and other categories of war victims, urged government to hire a specialized service to identify and ascertain the number as well as the living conditions of the IDPs so their needs could be taken care of. Initial CRTC reports had put the number at over 10 000; but given the track record of the state-own media to deform figures, it is widely speculated that the figure could be tripple.
Victims of war and especially IDPs are left to themselves, their family members and friends. The over 10 000 displaced women and children live under subhuman conditions for no fault of theirs. Naturally, women virtually lack what their counterparts elsewhere take for granted.
Historically, women and children have been discriminated against and used as property by men. Before the actual arrival of Boko Haram, women and girls have been ‘bokoharammed’ in more ways than one, including lack of access to education, health care, political and economic as well as decision-making responsibilities. Today, they have been forced out of their natural homes for no fault of theirs. How much longer can society watch on while these hard-to-reach and under-served segments of society suffer and die in silence?
* Gwain Colbert works with Dignity Television, Cameroon.
* THE VIEWS OF THE ABOVE ARTICLE ARE THOSE OF THE AUTHOR AND DO NOT NECESSARILY REFLECT THE VIEWS OF THE PAMBAZUKA NEWS EDITORIAL TEAM
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