Cameroon Anglophone Crisis: English speaking Cameroonians are refugees in Nigeria and not migrants.

Being a blogger in Cameroon during this period of socio-political turmoil one’s ears are bound to hear soft, hot and controversial debates on the media, arguments, and discussions in quarters, on the streets and press stands concerning the state of affairs in the country.

As a critical observer and analyst, moving around city towns in Cameroon precisely Douala and Buea I happened to come across Cameroonians arguing about the aforementioned.

The persisting Anglophone crisis now described as the Conflict in Anglophone Cameroon has left many pondering on the date of its resolve.

Many peace lovers both internal and external had and are clamoring for an all-inclusive dialogue until now when some leaders of the Anglophone Revolution have decided to embark on a cunny arm struggling.

Things have fallen apart and the crisis has had a bad twist since President Paul Biya declared war on the Anglophone Separatists labeling them “Terrorists”. Following the president’s official declaration has been the heavy deployment of the military in the two Anglophone regions precisely in the Manyu division of the South West Region where arson attacks on the Cameroon military and forces of law and order has been recorded and the author of the attacks has been allegedly claimed by the “Ambazonian Defence Force (ADF)”

As the number of people crossing into the Nigerian border keeps increasing as reported by “John Inaku, head of the Cross River state emergency management agency in southeast Nigeria, said over 28,000 people have arrived from former West Cameroon since October. But many of them have not been registered yet and people are still coming in”.

Why are English speaking Cameroonians fleeing into Nigeria?

The big question now is why are Cameroonians fleeing their own country? Some Cameroonians on the streets hold that Anglophones who are crossing into Nigeria are not doing so because of any military crackdown but because of economic hardship that the North West and southwest regions of Cameroon are so hard to survive in right now due to persisting Ghost Towns and slow economic activities caused by separatists. They add that the military is there to protect the citizens from abrupt attacks from extremists, thus there is no justification for people leaving their country because of the presence of the military.

However, others maintain that Anglophones in the two English parts of Cameroon are fleeing into Nigeria because of police and military brutality, killings and the unbearable environment they live in caused by military presence. The minister of communication, government spokesperson Issa Tchiroma has reiterated severally on local and international media that the military is there to protect its citizens.

Because of this unprecedented and unnoticed controversial reality, Africaninfolook thought it wise to clear the air. In comparative terms, Anglophones who cannot survive economically in the north-west and south-west regions have simply moved over to the French-speaking regions of the west center and littoral. This is called internal migration, thus they are called “economic migrants”. Others who find life unbearable due to police and military harassments, killings and even administrative orders to relocate are fleeing into Nigeria for safety. They are called refugees.

The UNHCR confirms the controversy surrounding these terms ‘refugee’ and ‘migrant’ which are frequently used interchangeably in media and public discourse.

Difference between a refugee and a migrant

The two terms have distinct and different meanings, and confusing them leads to problems for both populations. Here’s why:

English speaking Cameroonians fleeing into Nigeria

Refugees are persons fleeing armed conflict or persecution. There were 21.3 million of them worldwide at the end of 2015. Their situation is often so perilous and intolerable that they cross national borders to seek safety in nearby countries, and thus become internationally recognized as “refugees” with access to assistance from States, UNHCR, and other organizations.

They are so recognized precisely because it is too dangerous for them to return home, and they need sanctuary elsewhere. These are people for whom denial of asylum has potentially deadly consequences.

Refugees are defined and protected by international law. The 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol as well as other legal texts, such as the 1969 OAU Refugee Convention, remain the cornerstone of modern refugee protection. The legal principles they enshrine have permeated into countless other international, regional, and national laws and practices.

The 1951 Convention defines these as the basic rights which States should afford to refugees.

  • Refugees should not be expelled or returned to situations where their life and freedom would be under threat.
  • Access to asylum procedures that are fair and efficient;
  • Measures to ensure that their basic human rights are respected to allow them to live in dignity and safety while helping them to find a longer-term solution.

States bear the primary responsibility for this protection. UNHCR, therefore, works closely with governments, advising and supporting them as needed to implement their responsibilities. This raises a question in the case of Cameroon refugees in Nigeria where the Yaounde government has of now not made any official statement concerning its citizens in Nigeria but one can see on social media and television reports as the leaders of the ‘Ambazonia government’ are claiming control over its citizens, and are lobbying for international humanitarian assistance. It is obvious that the UNHCR is working closely with the state of Nigeria in handling the refugee influx, is it also working closely with the “state of Ambazonia”?

In the case Migrants, migrants choose to move not because of a direct threat of persecution or death, but mainly to improve their lives by finding work, or in some cases for education, family reunion, or other reasons. Unlike refugees who cannot safely return home, migrants face no such impediment to return. If they choose to return home, they will continue to receive the protection of their government.

For individual governments, this distinction is important. Countries deal with migrants under their own immigration laws and processes. Countries deal with refugees through norms of refugee protection and asylum that are defined in both national legislation and international law. Countries have specific responsibilities towards anyone seeking asylum in their territories or at their borders. UNHCR helps countries deal with their asylum and refugee protection responsibilities.

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