This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Boris Cheshirkov – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at today’s press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is deeply concerned by renewed intercommunal clashes that erupted this week in Cameroon’s Far North region, displacing thousands inside the country and forcing more than 30,000 people to flee to neighbouring Chad.
Since Sunday 5 December, at least 22 people have been killed and 30 others seriously injured during several days of ongoing fighting.
Clashes broke out in the border village of Ouloumsa following a dispute between herders, fishermen and farmers over dwindling water resources. Violence then spread to neighbouring villages. Ten villages in total have been burned to the ground.
On 8 December, fighting broke out in the Cameroonian city of Kousseri – a commercial hub with some 200,000 inhabitants. Kousseri’s cattle market was destroyed in the fighting. At least 10,000 people have fled Kousseri to Chad’s capital N’djamena, located a few kilometres across the Chari and Logone Rivers, which mark the border with Cameroon.
Eighty per cent of the new arrivals are women – including many who are pregnant – and children. They have found refuge in N’Djamena and villages along Chad’s bank of the Logone River.
Chad has reaffirmed its hospitality towards the new arrivals, and the authorities there, together with UNHCR, other UN agencies and humanitarian partners, are rushing to support the Cameroonian refugees with emergency shelter and assistance. Injured people have been admitted to two hospitals in N’Djamena.
Security forces have been dispatched to Far North Cameroon, but the situation remains volatile. UNHCR has been forced to suspend its operations in the affected areas.
The climate crisis is exacerbating tensions in Far North Cameroon. In recent decades, the surface of Lake Chad – of which the Logone River is a main tributary – has decreased by as much as 95 per cent. Fishermen and farmers have dug vast trenches to retain the remaining river water so they can fish and cultivate crops. But the muddy trenches are trapping and sometimes killing cattle belonging to the herders, sparking tension and fighting.
A first outbreak of intercommunal violence occurred in August. At the time, 45 people were killed and 23,000 forcibly displaced, 8,500 of whom have remained in Chad since then.
UNHCR and authorities had been leading reconciliation efforts in Kousseri since last week, during which representatives of the communities committed to put an end to the violence. But without urgent action to address the root causes of the crisis, the situation could escalate further.
UNHCR is calling for an immediate end to the violence and for the support of the international community to assist the victims and refugees.
Chad is home to close to a million refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs) and Cameroon to more than 1.5 million refugees and IDPs.
Financial resources to respond to the situation in both countries remain critically low. UNHCR’s requirements for 2021 in Cameroon (US$99.6 million) and Chad (US$141 million) are only 52 per cent and 54 per cent funded respectively. More support is urgently needed for UNHCR to continue providing life-saving assistance during a crisis that is likely to continue.