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Thursday, March 19, 2020

Immersion in the dirty war waged by the Biya regime in the Anglophone regions

Humanitarian organizations are struggling to keep pace with the growing needs of civilians as the conflict between the government and independence groups intensifies in the English-speaking regions of Cameroon.

The limited access to those who are driven from their homes, the low level of donor funding and what aid workers have described as government “obstruction” means that the majority of the 1.3 million people affected by violence cannot be reached. 

Since November 2019, there has been an upsurge of violence in the North-West and South-West regions - collectively known as independence fighters like Southern Cameroon or the Republic of Ambazonia. 

Growing humanitarian needs 

Nearly 900,000 people were left homeless and another 60,000 fled to neighboring Nigeria. The four-year conflict, sparked by the perceived marginalization of the region compared to the majority of French-speaking Cameroon, left at least 3,000 people dead. 

Needs include food, shelter and psychosocial support, as government forces and pro-independence fighters regularly burn down houses and, increasingly, entire villages, forcing people to go into the bush. 

Bali community members await shelter kits 

Residents of Bali waited for UN shelter kits after their homes were burned down. 

More than 600,000 children were unable to attend school regularly following an education boycott ordered by the separatists to protest against the rampant use of French in the classroom and attacks on schools, teachers and students to enforce the ban. As a result, only 19% of primary and secondary schools remain open in the conflict region. 

The United Nations agency for children, UNICEF, estimates that only 34% of health facilities are functioning, resulting in a decline in vital immunization and nutrition services.

Despite humanitarian needs, the UN and its local partners were only able to reach 40% of the civilians affected in 2019, The New Humanitarian Mobido Traoré, head of the United Nations aid coordinating agency, told OCHA. 

Growing 

insecurity Insecurity, particularly in the northwest - the center of much of the violence - has had a significant impact on humanitarian operations. 

In January, seven aid workers from two local NGOs - COMINSUD and the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Foundation - were kidnapped by independence fighters. Although all staff were later released, the kidnappings resulted in several organizations restricting their area of ​​operations. 

Government security forces also did not respect humanitarian space. On February 21, soldiers entered the campus of St. Mary Soledad Hospital, a health facility supported by the medical association Médecins Sans Frontières in the city of Bamenda, and shot and killed a civilian driver in his vehicle . 

Stray bullets also hit an ambulance call center, endangering the lives of patients and hospital staff, MSF said in a statement sent to TNH. 

Aid agencies are increasingly relying on community and religious leaders to rescue displaced civilians from their hiding places in the bush and to assemble them in "safe areas", such as religious centers and old schools, where they can receive help. 

But the army has searched "safe areas" and killed and arrested the displaced and those who helped organize aid distributions, according to internal incident reports of local aid NGOs seen by TNH, press releases press and interviews with several eyewitnesses and victims. 

Government repression

The government has also more systematically restricted humanitarian access, imposing increasingly restrictive monitoring and control procedures, aid workers say. 

In June, it established humanitarian coordination centers in Bamenda and Buea - the capitals of the north-west and south-west regions - to assess incoming aid, provide advice on distribution and ensure traceability, said back then government officials to local media. 

All local and international aid organizations - including the United Nations - must request coordination centers for authorization to carry out needs assessments and aid deliveries. Food and non-food aid must be inspected by hand in the centers before being delivered to beneficiaries. 

"The humanitarian aid verification process in Bamenda and Buea was put in place just to increase the burden on humanitarian actors," said Traoré. 

Local aid workers who asked to remain anonymous for security reasons described the tedious procedures as "repression against aid organizations". 

Last week, the government transferred the verification process from the coordination centers to the governor's office in Bamenda. 

It is a step that not only politicizes aid work, but will cause a "significant delay in aid to beneficiaries," said Traoré. 

The governor's office did not respond to TNH's requests to comment on the most recent developments. 

Humanitarian agencies accused of "collusion"

Government officials have also renewed their accusations that human rights groups and self-help groups conspire with pro-independence groups, supply them with weapons and spread false information implicating the security forces in atrocities . 

"Many NGOs have clearly turned out to be the enemies of our country." 

Cameroonian Ministry of Territorial Administration (MINAT) chief Paul Atanga Nji indicted Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the International Crisis Group and OCHA - among other organizations - at a televised press conference to work to "destabilize the State institutions". 

"Many NGOs have clearly turned out to be enemies of our country," said Nji. They "have become laboratories of false reports for the sole purpose of tarnishing the image of the country's defense and security forces". 

The government was particularly exasperated by reports of a massacre in the village of Ngarbuh on February 14, in which security forces and allied militias were accused of killing at least 21 civilians. The UN has demanded an impartial investigation into the incident. 

Human rights groups and humanitarian organizations have all denied Nji's accusations. 

"The statement is just another chapter in the government's smear campaign against [Human Rights Watch], other human rights organizations, human rights activists and journalists," Lewis told TNH Mudge, Director of Central Africa for HRW. 

"The government is trying to compromise our work and tarnish our image," said Traoré. "They don't want outside eyes to see what's going on."

Funding issues

A persistent lack of funding has also hampered the humanitarian response. Donors have provided just over 40 percent of aid to Cameroon, but in the North West and South West regions, the figure is much lower - only 18 percent of the budget has been funded. 

As a result, the UN has only "limited capacity to respond to growing needs in a timely manner," said Traoré. 

High staff turnover also means that the UN has struggled to build trust with communities and representatives on both sides of the conflict, noted an OCHA official, who asked to remain anonymous. 

Another United Nations staff member was more critical. "This situation is unique because [this United Nations operation] is not very functional," said the person, referring to the inability of the United Nations to provide assistance to the majority of those in need. “The reputation of the United Nations is collapsing. There is no delivery." 

As the conflict escalates in 2020, the UN predicts that its funding needs will increase. Local and international aid groups are working to build capacity, particularly in the troubled northwest region, but c "It is a difficult struggle, they say. 

" It is not a good situation, "a local aid worker told TNH."