In Cameroon, UNHCR and its partners are battling to help growing numbers of refugees from the Central African Republic, many arriving malnourished and ill after walking and hiding in the bush for weeks before reaching the border.
Since mid-April, the rate of deaths among refugee children has been particularly high. Twenty nine children, the youngest a baby and the eldest nine years old, died between April 14 and May 18 – most of them at therapeutic feeding centers, where they had arrived already gravely ill. Dehydration, hypothermia and severe anaemia were the main causes of death.
Refugees from CAR have been arriving in Cameroon since December 5 through some 30 border points across an area over hundreds of kilometres. At present there are 85,000 refugees in some 300 villages, making it extremely challenging for humanitarian agencies to meet their needs. In the worst-affected area around Gbiti which lies about 400 kilometers east of Yaounde, severe malnutrition rates among newly arriving refugee children are running at close to 40 percent.
We are relocating refugees away from the border to six sites we have set up, as well as to several villages. More than 25,000 refugees have so far been moved. This has become additionally pressing amid reports of infiltration of anti-Balaka fighters into Cameroon. On May 14 gunfire from CAR was heard near a spontaneous refugee site in Gbiti.
At present, more than 2,000 refugees are crossing into Cameroon weekly, down from the recent peak of more than 10,000 we saw in the last week of March. Arrivals decreased in early April after anti-Balaka militiamen, who have attacked refugees on the way, blocked the main roads leading to Cameroon. Newly arriving refugees tell us that many of their family members remain trapped in the bush in CAR.
UNHCR has established three new bases in eastern Cameroon to better help refugees arriving across the border, but we are not at present able to reach all 30 entry points. Since March, we have had 35 staff in three teams in the area. Each team includes specialists in protection, community services, registration, health and nutrition, water and sanitation, site planning and shelter.
While the humanitarian efforts are saving lives, we are accelerating the deployment of more NGOs for the critical sectors of health and nutrition. Currently, NGO capacity is worryingly thin in the refugee hosting areas. Several agencies have reported difficulties in covering the vast array of needs.
UNHCR is working with UNICEF, the World Food Programme and five medical aid agencies to reduce malnutrition rates and deaths. This includes the provision of therapeutic and supplementary feeding for the malnourished, general food distribution, vaccination campaigns, and the supply of clean water, sanitation and shelter.
Further funding is needed to expand services and better address the situation. UNHCR renews its call for donors to urgently step up funding to humanitarian operations in Cameroon. Of the $22.6 million UNHCR is seeking to help this population, so far just $4.2 million has been received. In addition the Regional Refugee Response Plan for Central African Republic is only 12 percent funded at present. This plan involves UNHCR and 14 partners in the four countries affected by CAR refugee crisis – Cameroon, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Republic of the Congo. It represents the humanitarian responses of six UN Agencies, IOM and eight NGOs.