Voice of America (Washington, DC)

24 February 2014

Central African Republic: Cameroon's Muslim Refugees Return Home

Photo: Médecins Sans Frontierès
A young patient at Batangafo hospital.

Yaounde — Cameroon's military is bringing home the last of some 2,000 Muslim citizens who had taken refuge in the Cameroonian ambassador's residence in Bangui, Central African Republic (CAR). They tell stories of atrocities committed by the anti-balaka Christian militias in CAR.

Ibrahim Chieik Ismaila, a popular Muslim spiritual leader in Cameroon, prays for God's mercies at the main hall of the Douala International Airport. A group of people, including Mahamat Sherif, have gathered there expecting the return of their relatives from the troubled Central African Republic.

He said he has been coming to the airport for one week to welcome his uncle's family that has been in CAR for 15 years. But he has not seen or heard from them and is totally confused - he does not know if they have been killed or are still alive.

For close to two weeks now, Cameroon military planes have been mobilized to repatriate citizens, especially Muslims, who have been subjects of recent attacks. Only about 125 of the more than 600 who have returned within two weeks are men, the rest are children and women. They say their men escaped into the bush and they do not know what has become of them.

Fleeing Cameroonians, like 30-year-old Rabi Njoya, tell of horrible scenes as a result of the sectarian violence.

He said he saw anti-balaka's slaughtering people as if they were human flesh eaters. He said all of his friends with whom he lived in Bangui were killed and he went to the Cameroonian embassy to ask for help.

Sali Samma, 42, says the anti-balakas, a Christian militia formed after the rise to power of former CAR leader Michel Djotodia, accused him of working for their enemies, the Selekas, a Muslim militia. He said that was the reason he was injured.

He said anti-balakas held him hostage and tied his hands and legs for more than an hour, accusing him of spying for the Selekas when he claims he is not a spy.

The Christian militia leaders say they suffered at the hands of the Selekas and are now seeking revenge.

The Muslims returning to Cameroon say they have been under a growing threat since Michel Djotodia and his mostly Muslim fighters were blamed for scores of atrocities against the predominantly Christian population. Even after Djotodia finally surrendered power and was replaced by Samba-Panza, they have seen no peace.

The airlift ordered by Cameroon President Paul Biya is to return all Cameroonian citizens, especially Muslims in CAR.

But people from other countries have also benefited. A pregnant Malian and two teenagers, who are suspected to be Central Africans, were also flown to the Douala airport.

Saliou Adamou, who said he is a Malian, expressed gratitude to Cameroon for saving his life.

He says he thanks the Cameroon embassy in Central African Republic. He said they received us as if we were their Cameroonian brothers and forgot no one.

Boubakari Oumarou who is from Chad said he had lied, saying he was a Cameroonian and was able to leave CAR.

He said the Christian militia members came to his neighborhood in the PK 13 district of Bangui looting and pillaging against the Muslims. He says those who resisted were killed.

Cameroonian authorities said it will be difficult to bring home only Cameroonians because many of them born in CAR do not have Cameroonian identification documents.

Two Months ago, Cameroon organized a similar airlift and brought back more than 1900 people.

This time around, the government is insisting that all Muslims who are still in CAR should return home and save their lives.

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InFocus

Sharp Rise in Cameroon's CAR Refugees

A young patient at Batangafo hospital.

The number of refugees fleeing the Central African Republic to Cameroon has increased to tens of thousands, as violent attacks continue. Read more »