More than 15,000 Cameroonian refugees have fled to Nigeria following a crackdown on Anglophone separatists, the United Nations refugee agency and Nigerian government officials said on Thursday.
The English-speaking separatists have seen their movement gain strength in the last few months following a military crackdown on protests, leading members to declare independence from majority French-speaking Cameroon in October for a breakaway “Ambazonia“ state it wants to create, Reuters reports.
The move is of great challenge to President Paul Biya, who will seek re-election this year. Biya has ruled the country for 35 years now.
Biya’s violent repression has driven thousands of people from English-speaking regions across the border into Nigeria.
According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ representative in Nigeria, Antonio Jose Canhandula, more than 8,000 refugees have been registered in the southeastern state of Cross River alone.
Another 6,700 Cameroonian refugees have crossed into Benue state, the head of Nigeria’s National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons, Sadiya Umar Farouq said.
There are also at least 350 refugees in the states of Taraba and Akwa Ibom, said Tamuno Dienye Jaja, deputy comptroller general of the Nigeria Immigration Service.
The refugees are mostly children, women and the elderly, with very few young men, the officials said.
Canhandula said that they are expecting more refugees as they are coming in daily, seeking more food assistance, education and social services.
Nigerian and Cameroonian officials have met to discuss the refugees.
French is the official language for most of Cameroon, but English is spoken in the two regions.