Following a spate of Boko Haram attacks the Cameroonian authorities have expelled an estimated 3,500 Nigerians from Cameroon over the past three weeks. Many of the expelled were people who had crossed to Cameroon fleeing Boko Haram attacks on their villages in Nigeria. OCHA met some young men who had recently been expelled to Malkohi Camp, a Government-run camp in Adamawa State in northeastern Nigeria. Malkohi houses about 1,000 men, women and children in gender-segregated quarters. Over in the men’s quarters, a group of recent repatriates gathered around, each clamouring to tell his story. Many spoke of having witnessed terrible violence and suffering, and most spoke with fear and anger.
Adam Ibrahim, 26
Adam arrived in Malkohi less than three weeks ago. He had initially fled to Cameroon following an attack by Boko Haram on his home in Maiduguri. He and his pregnant wife had walked 500km to cross the Cameroon border in relentless rain: it was the wet season. “It rained and rained and rained,” he said. Dozens of others families fled alongside them, either walking or on motorbikes, their belongings strapped to their cattle or to their backs. “Women were giving birth en route, people were dying,” he said. The young and fit carried small children, the old or sick. Some people with money could buy provisions along the way. Others begged.
Finally, they arrived in Cameroon to safety. But getting there did not signal the end of Adam’s troubles. After a short time, he and his wife were rounded up with the rest of the Nigerians who did not possess Cameroonian identity documents, and were expelled. Crammed shoulder-to-shoulder into a lorry with hundreds of others, theye re-entered Nigeria with nothing except the clothes on their backs.
Adam was comparatively lucky – rather than being forcibly separated from his wife, she too was expelled to Malkohi so he knows where she is. They now live separately in gender-segregated blocks. But he is worried about the safety of his unborn child. And all he wants is to resume his life – he used to be a trader: “I want an apartment for my family and a job,” he said.
Haruna Mustapha, 24
Haruna is a farmer and lived near Maiduguri until Boko Haram arrived and destroyed his family’s farm. “They torched everything: the buildings, machines, vehicles. They looted our crops, they burned everything,” he told us.
He and his family of 15 escaped. His parents, brothers and sisters, nephews and nieces walked 250 km towards Cameroon. When they would stop to ask for food and water and a place to sleep, people suspected them of being Boko Haram, and turned them away. They walked a further 200km, crossing the border into Cameroon, but they found no help there either. “People were dying of hunger, of exhaustion, of diseases….dying of the rains,” he said darkly.
Soon after the Government armed forces came, herded up all the men and “packed us in like sardines,” into vehicles, leaving no space to sit or lie down. Haruna was afraid they were going to be shot. The vehicle stopped at the Nigerian border, and they were ordered out to cross into Mubi, where they were herded into Nigerian Government vehicles and brought to Malkohi.
As far as Haruna knows, the rest of his family is still in Cameroon, near the border. He is anxious to hear from them again. “My family wants to come back to Nigeria now,” he said.
Adam Abubakar, 22
Adam fled Nigeria with 23 family members. His family has been scattered and he was brought to Malkohi camp without them, crammed into a lorry. He has no idea where any of his family members are.
His family had been relatively wealthy and entered Cameroon with many of their possessions, but the Cameroon Government took everything, he said.
“We lost everything,” he said, sweeping his arms expansively, “everything. Food, shelter, land… We owned gold,” he said, his eyes angry. He is upset to have lost his valuables, but it is the indignity that really smarts. Most of all, Adam is afraid that someone else has come and claimed their farmland. “Then there will be no home for me to go back to. Then I can’t support myself and my family, when we are reunited.”
Other men shouted their assent.
For Adam, Haruna and Adam, like so many other internally displaced people in northeastern Nigeria, the future is uncertain. They hope to find lost family members, return home and re-start their lives, but while Boko Haram continues its violent attacks, this is not an option. For now their lives, dreams and futures are kept on hold.
Credit: United Nations OCHA