21 June 2017 – Large numbers of Nigerian refugees hosted in Cameroon are returning to northeast Nigeria, into a situation the United Nations refugee chief calls “dangerously unprepared to receive them.”
“It is my firm view that returns are not sustainable at this time,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, in a press statement today.
Three weeks ago the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) warned about the situation in the Nigerian border town of Banki, where thousands were returning.
“Shelter was lacking, there was severe overcrowding, water supplies and sanitation facilities were wholly inadequate, humanitarian aid was in short supply, and with the rainy season approaching, there was a risk of disease. Even before the returns, Banki was hosting some 45,000 internally displaced people,” Mr. Grandi stressed.
“Now,” he continued “a further 889 Nigerian refugees, most of them children, have arrived. Having travelled from Minawao camp in Cameroon they reached Banki on 17th June.”
The High Commission explained that UNHCR has already stepped up information efforts in Minawao camp to ensure that refugees are given accurate information on the conditions in Banki before they make the choice to return.
“In Banki a strengthened inter-agency effort to address the existing situation must be a priority,” he continued.” We are working with the authorities and humanitarian actors to ensure that returnees are quickly screened, and receive food, shelter and other basic household support.”
Mr. Grandi pointed out, “The new arrivals – and we hear reports of more refugees seeking to return – put a strain on the few existing services. A new emergency, just as the rainy season is starting, has to be avoided at all costs.”
He concluded by stressing that the Tripartite Commission, established with UNHCR and the governments of Nigeria and Cameroon, needs to hold its first meeting as soon as possible to outline the minimum conditions needed for returns and discuss how to address these spontaneous movements.