The UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), Nigeria, said that Nigerian returnees from Cameroon are currently facing enormous challenges in various communities in the North East.

Mr Hanson Tamfu, External Relations Officer, UNHCR, Nigeria, made this known in a statement on Friday in Abuja.

Tamfu, who described the situation as an emergency, called for urgent intervention from the government and humanitarian agencies.

He said the current emergency was as a result of the influx of over 19,000 Nigerian refugees from Cameroon to Banki and Pulka, Borno State in the past few weeks.

He explained that abrupt influx of the returnees have created enormous pressure on the very few existing services already stretched to the limit of servicing Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the communities.

Tamfu said the returnees were in dire need of basic living conditions due to lack of food, shelter, water and sanitation, as well as limited and overstretched health facilities.

He said that the situation was worse in Pulka and was already taking a toll on other communities where returnees who arrived in Banki since April were taking refuge.

According to the officer, Mr Cesar Tshilombo, Head of UNHCR, Sub Office in Maiduguri, said that the UNHCR Protection team has reported an increasing risks in human right abuses and others incidents.

“The prolonged shortage of food has led to serious protection risks for the population and we are receiving numerous reports of cases of domestic violence, forced marriages, unwanted pregnancies, and human rights abuses.

“This include sexual exploitation, in exchange for food and other services in Banki,” Tshilombo said.

Also, Mr Jose-Anthonio Canhandula, UNHCR Country Representative to Nigeria described the situation as a very sad one as the refugees have now returned to secondary displacement.

He said that the mortality rate among the returnees was alarming and this is due to reduced medical capacity, malnutrition and exposure to harsh weather conditions.

“Refugees returning from Cameroon were expected to return to their areas of origin, but most of them are now returning to second displacements.

“Such a situation was foreseeable and this is why we appeal to refugees not to hurriedly return to Nigeria, a call repeated by the Nigerian government, who accompanied us in a recent visit to Nigerian refugees camps in Cameroon.

“Many returnees sleep in open spaces during the rainy season, which has already started and there are only 304 latrines and 136 bathing areas for a population of nearly 45,000 people in Banki camp.

“There is only one health facility in the town as such, critical medical cases need to be transferred to Cameroon and there is no ambulance to transport patients.

“The situation requires a coordinated approach by the humanitarian community to reverse this dangerous trend with overcrowding and current lack of water and sanitation facilities.

“UNHCR and other humanitarian actors had predicted a growing risk of a disease outbreak if urgent steps are not taken to reverse the current situation,” Canhandula warned.

The UNHCR country representative called on humanitarian actors to intervene in areas where they have expertise and resources, particularly in areas of shelter, food, water and sanitation, health and education.

He said that in Banki, UNHCR has distributed core relief items to returnees, such as mattresses, blankets, mosquito nets, cooking pots, buckets, solar lanterns, slippers, sanitary pad, and even soap.

Canhandula said the Borno government has certified Bama, Gwoza, Ngoshe and Gulumba, safe for return as a result of effective military presence.

He said an estimated 7,000 to 10,000 IDPs and returnees were expected to be relocated to those communities.

He, however, said that humanitarian access outside the main administrative areas remain a challenge, and movement of staff and relief items by road was not the best option.

More than 12,400 refugees returned abruptly to Banki, in April and May bringing the total of returnees to over 19,000.

(Source: NAN)