Gerard, a Cameroonian refugee, starts new life in Nigeria

2 months ago 369

After fleeing Cameroon's anglophone crisis in 2019, 47-year-old Gerard took refuge in neighbouring Nigeria. This pig farmer is one of the 70,000 registered refugees in the East of Africa's most populous country.

The day starts early in Ogoja, eastern Nigeria. Gerard Tiko'Or Akenji is a Cameroonian refugee who founded an agricultural cooperative at a camp operated by the UN refugee agency.

Every morning, the 47-year-old visits and cares for his pigs. He is one of the 70,000 Cameroonian refugees registered in the East of Africa’s most populous country.

"The reason why I fled to Nigeria to seek refuge is because I was persecuted by the military back home. I was arrested many times. [At first in] 2017. 2019. I finally left the country."

If he was arrested, like many other English-speaking Cameroonians it is because a conflict is tearing apart the country’s North-West and South-West regions. Since 2017, authorities fight secessionist militants. Both sides have been accused of atrocities in the fighting, which according to the International Crisis Group (ICG) has killed more than 6,000 people.

Invisible war

"I left the country because of fear of death," said Akenji. "I always tied my sneakers, and lie on my bed with my legs down, and my door open, in case of any noise I have to run [...] The sound of gun and explosives have killed many of old people, because they are very afraid", he recalls.

Then the schools began to close as threats from separatists and the fear of violence kept students at home.

In September 2021, the start of the academic year, two-thirds of schools in the two English-speaking regions were closed, depriving 700,000 children and adolescents of education, according to the UN.

Hundreds of schools have been attacked there, according to the campaign group Human Rights Watch (HRW). "It's an invisible crisis," said Roland Schoenbauer, the spokesperson for UNHCR in Nigeria. "The number of refugees kept increasing since 2017, while the funds made available by donors have decreased."

The conflict is now in its fifth year yet remains largely forgotten -- even unknown -- in many parts of the world.

Start a new life

To survive Gerard had to build a new life from scratch: "We've created a cooperative named 'United Farmers Cooperative', abbreviated as UNIFARM, where both Nigerians and (Cameroonian) refugees are active members in the cooperative."

The cooperative enables refugees to earn and living and helps them progressively integrate the labour market. As Nigerians take part in the project, refugees can build bonds with the local community.

For those who do not foresee a resolution in the conflict back in Cameroon, Nigeria may become home.

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