The United Nations Security Council has held its first informal meeting on the humanitarian crisis in Cameroon.
Since 2016, unrest has prevailed in the country’s Anglophone Northwest and Southwest regions, rooted in claims of long-standing political and economic discrimination by francophone authorities against the minority English-speaking population.
The government there has long rejected calls from separatists for independence and an ensuing low-level conflict between the two sides has driven more than R560 000 Cameroonians from their homes and adding to a broader humanitarian crisis that has left 2.3 million people in need.
It was a meeting called primarily to address the humanitarian crisis in the country.
But the internal political dispute between the Anglophone regions and the government could not be ignored.
“The crisis in the northwest and southwest regions started with peaceful protests in the English speaking regions but has now turned violent. It was one of the fastest growing displacement crises in Africa last year. For the past three years the population has been subjected to ongoing violence and attacks by armed actors, the level of the crisis today is more alarming than ever,” says UN’s Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock.
While the situation in the country continues to be under reported, Cameroon now has the 6th largest displaced population in the world.
Civil society organisations and international NGOs report that security forces and armed separatists are targeting civilians throughout the area, including allegations of murder, kidnapping, torture, rape and sexual exploitation among other atrocities.
Tens of thousands of children throughout the region – some 80% – are deprived of education and only one in four completed school in the South West region in the 2017-2018 school year.
“Three years after the beginning of the crisis they UN and its partners should urgently step up humanitarian aid because what is given is far below expectations than what is required. Meanwhile we do not know why very little attention is paid to this crisis in the northwest and southwest when it comes to humanitarian aid. We therefore call on all humanitarian actors to step up the engagement in humanitarian efforts,” adds NGO Reach Out’s Ester Omam Njomo.
She also urged the UN to do more to resolve the political crisis.
“The UN could support greater efforts to encourage talks and dialogue between the conflicting parties who are brothers – for an eventual end to the crisis for them to come up with a roadmap to achieving sustainable peace that builds more on our existing strength and influence,” explains Omam Njomo.
Council members also weighed in, among them Germany’s Ambassador Christoph Heusgen.
“We’re starting now to put it on the agenda. I think it’s important to have it and there is a worrying situation in the country and we’re going to listen to the briefers and have a look at it,” says Ambassador Christoph Heusgen.
“Today’s meeting’s about the dire humanitarian situation that’s developing and the great concerns that we have that it’s not really yet being taken seriously enough. I think we want to send a clear message about the importance of access both for humanitarian workers and frankly for human rights as well and perhaps get a little bit into the politics that underpins that,” adds Jonathan Allen of the United Kingdom.
The UN also says its $300 million humanitarian appeal for the entire country has only been 13% funded.
Cameroon’s envoy later objected to the format saying that in no way did the crisis in his country constitute a threat to international peace and security.