Abuja — THE number of Cameroonian refugees in Nigeria has passed the 20 000-mark.
They are fleeing persecution by government forces in the English-speaking regions that are demanding independence from the government of Paul Biya.
Cameroon's population of 24 million is predominantly French.
The number of refugees has doubled since mid-January.
Anglophone Cameroonians began fleeing violence in October 2017 and continue to pour into Nigeria's Cross River, Taraba, Benue and Akwa-Ibom States.
A recent assessment by humanitarian groups shows the situation for Cameroonians in Nigeria is grim.
Ninety-five per cent of the asylum seekers have no more than three days of food. Most families are down to one meal per day.
The coping strategies people are using are themselves risky, ranging from borrowing money to cutting food portions or saving food only for children.
Malaria is reportedly already on the increase.
About 20 to 30 percent of asylum seekers have some physical disability.
Aikaterini Kitidi, spokesperson of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, expressed concern at the arrest of Cameroonian nationals in Nigeria, including at least one asylum seeker.
"We urge Nigerian authorities to refrain from the forcible return of individuals who may have fled persecution in their country of origin," Kitidi said.
Ironically, thousands of Nigerians have over the past decade fled the Boko Haram banditry and sought refuge in Cameroon.