Many Nigerian citizens from the North East who had fled to neighbouring Cameroon in order to escape Boko Haram insurgency, and were forcefully deported back to the country have narrated their ordeals.
The Nigerian IDPs, some of who are nursing mothers, recounted the inhumane treatment meted out on them by the Cameroonian forces before they were forcefully deported and dumped in Pulka, a border town in Borno State.
The deportees have been narrating their ordeals to staff of the international medical charity, Médecins Sans Frontières, MSF, better known as Doctors Without Borders, in Banki and Pulka towns in Borno State.
Some of them say they were separated from their families before being put onto lorries and sent back to Borno State.
Mayara – not real name – who had fled to Kolofata in Cameroon more than one year ago, told the MSF that he arrived at Banki on March 12.
He said: “On the day I was brought here, my wife went into labour and was rushed to the clinic. All my six children are there in Kolofata as well. I was the only one that came here to Banki.
“I wanted to go see my wife to know how she was doing but there was no way I could do that because we were gathered by Cameroonian soldiers and were not allowed to leave.
“We lived in Kolofata for more than one year and they just decided to send people back to their country without any explanation.
“We did not tell them we wanted to come back to our country. They forced us to come here. They woke us early in the morning and took us to a field where they gathered all of us,” he added.
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees, UNHCR, had expressed disappointment at Cameroon’s continued forceful deportation of Nigerian refugees.
The UN agency said the action was even more condemnable given the fact that the governments of Nigeria and Cameroon had signed an agreement with the UN on March 2 to allow refugees to voluntarily return to their country when possible.
“While recognising the legitimate national security concerns of the Cameroon government, UNHCR reminds authorities that refugees are themselves fleeing violence and attacks from Boko Haram and that their access to asylum and protection must be ensured,” the agency said in a statement.
Life in Cameroon was not any pleasant for the deportees as they found it difficult to feed or access healthcare.
“Living there was not pleasant at all. We had water and food problems. We never benefited from any food distribution,” Mayara said.
“You either farmed or did menial jobs like breaking firewood, or selling water. This was how we survived.
“There were several days we went hungry because there was no food. There were people selling drugs, so, if your child was sick you would have to pay for drugs.”
But his greatest worry at the moment, Mayara said, is that “I don’t know if my wife delivered safely and what the condition of the child is. I don’t know anything about my family and this is really giving me sleepless nights.”
Another Deportee, Zara – not real name – said her husband was forcefully deported nine months ago before she was later returned in March.
“My husband is here in Banki but we came separately from Cameroon. They (Cameroon soldiers) left me behind when they brought my husband here nine months ago,” she said.
“They gathered the men and when the vehicles came that would bring them to Banki, they told the women to stay back, and said the vehicles would come back for us.We gathered our belongings waiting for the vehicles but they never came.
“I was four months pregnant then, and now my baby is four months old. They only came a few days ago and brought us here.”
Similarly, 55-year-old Mala – not real name – told the MSF that he does not know the whereabouts of his family at present, as the soldiers would not even allow him to enter his shelter to collect any of his belongings.
“I could only come with the clothes I’m wearing now,” he said. “They did not even allow me to go inside my house to take some of my belongings.
“Since coming here, I have not heard from my family to know how they are faring.
“For the entire duration of our stay there (in Cameroun), we never received anything in terms of food or non-food distribution, not once. It was a struggle to get food to eat.”
However, there were some of the refugees that could be considered as “lucky”. They are those who mustered enough courage to leave the country on their own before they were be thrown out.
They are considered lucky because they were able to pack their few belongings before leaving. Others who were forced out did not have such privilege.
57-year-old Ahmed – not real name -, narrated to MSF how he and others decided they had had enough at the hands of the Cameroonian soldiers.
“They kept pushing us to leave. In such a situation, what were we to do?” Ahmed asked.
“We had heard that other Nigerians in other places were being loaded in trucks and taken away and we did not want to wait for that to happen.
“So, we decided to leave before they took us somewhere we did not know. We gathered together and left around 3 am.
“By daybreak, around 8 am, we were already at the military checkpoint and screening point before entering Pulka,” he said.
11,000 new IDPs have arrived Pulka since December 2016; more than 42,000 are estimated to be taking refuge in the small town, and aid agencies such as MSF say there is not enough food and medical supplies to cater for the growing number.
According to the MSF, “The security situation in the town is still volatile, and movements in and out are highly regulated by the military, leaving people unable to go very far to farm or fetch firewood” with which to cook the food rations they receive.
“Two pieces of firewood cost N50 which is expensive for the people and not enough to cook a family meal,” the organisation said.