interviewBy Brenda Yufeh
What is the situation of refugees in Cameroon?
Cameroon is hosting 83,000 refugees from different nationalities with majority of them coming from Central Africa Republic (CAR). There are 62,000 CAR refugees who are living in the East and Adamawa Regions of Cameroon. There are also 3,500 refugees from Chad who are living in the Langui Camp located in the Northern region of Cameroon. Besides these refugees living in the rural areas of Cameroon, there are also 11,000 urban refugees who are living in Douala and Yaounde. Some of these urban refugees are from Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Nigeria and other nationalities.
What specific problems do the refugees have?
All refugees are usually in search of security and safety. As far as those living in Cameroon are concerned, they do not have any particular problem of protection such as refugees found in different countries who are victims of harassment and attacks coming from neighbouring countries. Refugees may face problems when they commit common crimes which are contrary to the laws of Cameroon. That is why it is our role as well as that of the government to sensitise refugees to be respectful of the laws of the country of asylum. However, problems of refugees are common to problems of other Cameroonians. Refugees are like people in search of jobs, studying and trying to do their best to sustain living. That is why UNHCR in Cameroon in collaboration with other agencies such as World Food Programme and UNICEF, come together to support refugees by providing them with food, medication, fund for income generating activities. This is to encourage them in their livelihood.
How does the UNHCR assists refugees in acquiring the necessary ID papers which enable them better circulate in Cameroon?
Upon recognition as a refugee, UNHCR provides that individual with a document which he can use as identification paper to move around the country. When they are at the stage of asylum seekers, they have the asylum seekers certificate, which indicates that they are in the course of being determined as refugees. After being recognised as refugees, UNHCR provides them with an ID card for refugees which are valid after five years renewable. Those who are rejected from a refugee status have the right to appeal within 30 days. If the appeal is positive, then they will be given a refugee ID card but if the decision is negative, they are rejected definitely. For such category of people, UNHCR encourages them to return to their country. But for those who are not willing to return, we advice them to regularise their status with the immigration service of the country. However, we encourage voluntary repatriation for refugees who one day will like to go back to their country. UNHCR assists those who want to return to their country by paying their transportation and giving them some money to start some business.
Why are some applications for a refugee status rejected?
A refugee status is not automatic. Anybody can come to a country for various reasons. To be a refugee, one has to demonstrate that he/she has well founded reasons of fear of living in his/her country of origin. This could be for several reasons such as war, racism, political, etc. If some one is not meeting the criteria to be recognised as a refugee which gives him the right to be protected in the country of asylum as a refugee, than, that person does not deserve a refugee status. There are certain international criteria which are established for some one to be given the refugee status. Those who do not meet the international criteria could be economic migrants.