A little-known exodus has been taking place for more than a year in western Africa as tens of thousands of people flee the English-speaking regions of Cameroon to seek refuge in southern Nigeria’s Cross River State.
Teams from Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) have launched an emergency response to provide aid to the refugees and the communities hosting them.
Political disputes in Cameroon’s South-West and North-West Regions escalated in late 2016. After secessionist armed forces proclaimed an independent state, they were confronted by the National Army.
Since then, daily violence has caused thousands to flee their villages and find refuge and protection in neighbouring Nigeria.
Despite concerns over the escalating violence, there has been very little aid response by the international community either inside Cameroon, where access for humanitarian groups is severely limited, or in Nigeria.
By the end of November 2018, an estimated 437,000 people were internally displaced within the South-West and North-West Regions of Cameroon.
Most have fled to the bush, where living conditions are poor and there is a lack of adequate shelter and access to food, water and basic health services.
To help meet the medical and health needs of these displaced populations, MSF is strengthening the referral and emergency systems of district health structures in Buea (South-West Region) and Bamenda (North-West Region) and developing the capacity of community health workers to provide decentralised care.
MSF is concentrating its activities in rural and peripheral areas where peaks of violence are preventing large numbers of people from accessing health services.
With an estimated 30,000 refugees also sheltering in Nigeria, in June 2018 MSF launched activities in Cross River State. From July to mid-November, medical teams conducted 3,890 consultations.