A Human Rights Watch (HRW) report released on September 27 accused Cameroon’s military of deporting 100,000 Nigerian refugees in flight from Boko Haram since early 2015. The report also highlighted the military’s abuse and torture of the refugees. The mass deportations go against the UN High Commission for Refugees’ (UNHCR) earlier request to not send anyone back to Nigeria “until the security and human rights situation has improved considerably.”
HRW made the report after interviewing 61 refugees and asylum-seekers in Nigeria about their experiences in Cameroon. Every refugee interviewed stated that the Cameroon military gathered groups of asylum seekers and beat them in order to force them onto trucks for deportation. Many interviewees mentioned the poor conditions in the camp, including lack of adequate food and clean water. The report quoted one refugee as saying, “They humiliated us like animals and beat us like we were slaves.”
Cameroon’s actions are in response to Boko Haram’s growing clout in the region. In the past, Cameroonian officials have claimed that Boko Haram militants entered Cameroon posing as refugees.
In 2015, Cameroon’s government launched a military offensive against Boko Haram in the northern part of the country, where the terrorist group had established safe haven by taking advantage of the region’s weak governance.
According to the UN, at least 10.7 million people need assistance in the region that includes Nigeria and parts of Cameroon, Chad, and Niger.
The HRW report called the abuse a “flagrant breach” of the principle of nonrefoulement, the practice of not expelling refugees to circumstances that threaten their wellbeing. Nonrefoulement is required under both international and national Cameroonian law. A UNHCR spokesperson said, “Forced returns in any context are of serious concern to us and in the case of Cameroon and Nigeria we have raised these concerns repeatedly and publicly.”
Moving forward, HRW recommended that Cameroon start prosecuting soldiers who have committed abuse, registering refugees, and allowing asylum-seekers to live in the country. The organization also suggested that the UNHCR continue its monthly reports on deportations and begin reporting on Cameroon’s level of cooperation with attempts to register refugees.