Repatriation of Nigerian refugees from Cameroon has been fixed for February 27 and March 7, 2021.
Most of the 46,000 Nigerian refugees fled troubled Borno State to neighbouring Cameroonian towns, mostly Minawao, at the peak of the Boko Haram crisis.
The decision on the scheduled repatriation dates was taken after a tripartite commission meeting involved representatives of the federal government, Borno State Government and the Cameroonian Government.
The meeting, which was held last Wednesday, had in attendance the Cameroonian delegation led by the host country's Minister of Territorial Administration, Paul Atanga Nji; Governor of Far North Cameroon, Midjiyawa Bakary, and some humanitarian officials, as well as the Nigerian side led by Borno State Governor, Prof Umara Zulum; top officials from the Nigerian High Commission in Cameroon, the Permanent Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Malam Bashir Nura Alkali; the Ministry's Humanitarian Director, Ali Grema; a representative of the Federal Commissioner of National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons, Mr. Hassan Ejibunu; the governor's Adviser on External and Liaison Services, Adamu Abbas, who is also a member of the Technical Working Group (TWG) established for the implementation of the tripartite repatriation agreement; a member of the House of Representatives representing Bama, Ngala, Kala-Balge federal constituency of Borno State, Zainab Gimba; the Director-General of Borno State Emergency Management Agency, and some other relevant officials.
A statement issued yesterday by Zulum's spokesman, Mallam Isa Gusau, read: "Following a two-day visit to Cameroon by Governor Zulum, a tripartite commission meeting held last Wednesday night has fixed February 27 and March 7, 2021, to commence the voluntary repatriation of Nigerian refugees towards resettlement in Borno State.
"About 46,000 Nigerians, mostly from Borno State, have been taking refuge in Minawao refugee camp located in Mokolo, far north region of Cameroon."
It disclosed that: "Governor Zulum, alongside the Federal Humanitarian officials from Nigeria and Cameroon, were at the Minawao camp last Wednesday before returning to Maroua, capital of the far north region of Cameroon, for a tripartite commission meeting.
"Zulum's initial target was to have first a batch of 9,800 willing Nigerian refugees repatriated this week for resettlement in newly built houses located in Bama and Banki.
"However, yesterday's (Wednesday) meeting of the tripartite commission came up with a revised standard operating procedure which was signed by all parties agreeing that repatriation to hold on February 27 and March 7, 2021."
The statement explained further that: "The tripartite commission was established in the aftermath of a tripartite agreement signed in Cameroon on March 2, 2017, between the Governments of Nigeria, the Republic of Cameroon and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), on repatriation of Nigerian refugees, who fled to Cameroon since 2014 over attacks by Boko Haram insurgents in some parts of Borno and Adamawa States.
"The agreement created a legal framework which identified modalities for voluntary, dignified and safe return of refugees to their countries of origin with all parties agreeing to critically assess safety of resettlement destinations, ensure refugees are well informed of the realities of where they will returned in order to make them take informed decisions while neither Nigerian officials nor communities in Cameroon should force refugees to leave. The UNHCR was to keep supporting the refugees and protecting their rights and obedience to local laws under the UN convention."
Zulum, who arrived Cameroon last Tuesday evening, before his trip, had had series of meetings aimed at following all established procedures towards a lawful repatriation of the refugees in Cameroon, with Nigeria's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama; Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Hajiya Sadiya Farouq; the Federal Commissioner, National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons, Senator Basheer, with other relevant ambassadors.
It has been reported that majority of the refugees at the Minawao refugee camp, who are mostly from Borno State, have regularly appealed to Zulum to spearhead their repatriation to safe and rebuilt communities in Borno State in order to return to decent living.
The governor had in September 2019, during his trip to the camp in Minawao, promised citizens that he would in response to their appeal, work with stakeholders towards their successful return and dignified resettlement in over 6,000 houses at different levels of completion.