2000 refugees have fled Cameroon to Nigeria in past two weeks: UN agency

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By Paul Carsten

ABUJA (Reuters) – More than 2,000 people have fled southern
Cameroon and entered Nigeria over the past two weeks, fallout
from renewed oppression of Angolophone Cameroonians in the
predominantly French-speaking country, the United Nations refugee
agency said on Thursday.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is now
preparing a “very conservative” contingency plan for as many as
40,000 people fleeing Cameroon, Antonio Jose Canhandula, the
agency’s representative to Nigeria, told Reuters in an interview
in Abuja.

A cycle of state repression fuelling separatism has raised
concerns the majority French-speaking Cameroon may face a
prolonged period of violence, after soldiers shot dead at least
eight people in the country’s two English-speaking regions on Oct
1.

“Our fear is that the 40,000 might actually be an understatement
in a situation where the conflict might continue,” said
Canhandula.

Cameroon’s government “has sent security forces into southern
Cameroon,” he said, adding that the country has now closed its
borders with Nigeria.

Demonstrations in Cameroon’s English-speaking regions began
nearly a year ago when Anglophone lawyers and teachers protested
against having to work in French, saying it showed the wider
marginalisation of the English-speaking minority.

One of Cameroon’s English-speaking regions in the country’s west
borders Nigeria’s southeastern state of Cross Rivers. There, the
UNHCR has been registering refugees, some of whom say they are
fleeing violence, according to Canhandula.

But Nigeria and Cameroon are already grappling with one of the
world’s worst humanitarian crises, in the Lake Chad region, with
over 2 million people displaced after more than eight years of
conflict with Islamist insurgency Boko Haram.

“Can you imagine having another refugee situation in a country
where we are hardly coping with IDPs (internally displaced
persons)?” Canhandula said.

“Every time you have a refugee situation you have it for several
years… Cameroon really has to take the issues that create the
feeling of exclusion very seriously,” he said.

Cameroon’s linguistic divide is a legacy of World War One, when
the League of Nations divided the former German colony of Kamerun
between allied French and British victors.

(Reporting by Paul Carsten; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

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