Nigerian officials have reported that more than 40,000 refugees from the Anglophone Southern Cameroons region have poured over the border to escape the violent atrocities and crackdown by the Cameroonian forces after separatists declared an independent state named “The Federal Republic of Ambazonia.” President Paul Biya fiercely opposes session and has met the protests with severe violence, repression, abuse, and curfews.
Reports of dozens of Cameroonian soldiers descending from trucks, opening fire, and setting buildings alight in the Southwest Cameroon village of Bole on 2 February, symbolizes the severity of the growing crisis. Dozens of dead bodies were reportedly laying outside burning homes. Army spokesman Colonel Didier Badjeck argued that these reports were “totally false.” Nonetheless, the raid on Bole, which has been verified by other witnesses and reports, mimics army operations in other villages across Southwest Cameroon.
Cameroonians in the Anglophone area of Southern Cameroon continue to push for restoration of statehood in the former British colonized part of the state, as well as the dissolution of the 1961 Union of Southern Cameroon with French Cameroon. Protesters have long argued for this independence as a result of their economic injustice, linguistic discrimination, and cultural bias. The Cameroonian forces responded with a security clampdown, resulting in several deaths, numerous injured, and hundreds forcibly detained. Images of army helicopters shooting at innocent civilians resulted in a mass flight of refugees into neighbouring Nigeria.
Ojong Steven, a refugee who escaped the violent crackdown with his family of 11, spoke of the Boki people in Nigeria welcoming them. “The Bashu people are trying their best, but the problem is that we the Cameroonian’s are more than the people in the village. At times when they bring food, we normally eat together, but the food does not go round. Secondly, I am having health issues with my heart and when I was in Cameroon, I used to go for check-up, but now I can’t do that anymore…I don’t know what to do.”
President Biya declared war against the separatists attempting to create an independent state away from the French-majority of Cameroon. The leader of the separatist group, Ayuk Tabe, was arrested in Nigeria and deported to Cameroon, representing a symbolic blow to the movement. Reports of Francophone Cameroonian soldiers following fleeing refugees into Nigeria, arresting them, and forcibly taking them back to Cameroon represents a violation of international law. With the forces accidentally arresting Nigerian citizens, tensions between the two neighbouring countries have grown.
The European Union, the United Nations, and other international partners have called for peaceful dialogue between the warring parties and for the Cameroonian government to respect the rights of protesters. However, regional and international fears grow as the Southern Cameroon crisis is spiraling out of control, especially as President Biya seems to willing to use violence and abuse to stay in power and halt any independence claims. With presidential elections scheduled for October and the security situation quickly deteriorating in Anglophone Cameroon, President Biya may continue to use violent tactics to quell the growing secessionist movement, and therefore diminish the peace and stability in the region.