Where Are the 47 Political Exiles Sent by Nigeria to Cameroon?

Over the past few months, thousands of refugees from Cameroon have fled across the country’s western border into Nigeria, escaping an increasingly vicious conflict that has been largely unnoticed outside the region.

Hundreds of civilians have been killed; many more have been tortured, disappeared, or taken into custody by forces loyal to Paul Biya, the president of Cameroon—who is currently the longest-serving leader in Africa today, having held power for 35 years.

The trouble started when teachers and lawyers in the Cameroon’s minority Anglophone regions—who complained of being marginalized by the country’s Francophone majority—launched a mass protest. These complaints soon turned into more militant demands for greater self-determination, then became a secessionist demand for the creation of an independent (and Anglophone) state of “Ambazonia.”

Nigeria itself has reacted to the trouble by appealing for international aid to support the influx of refugees, and by showing itself ready to support its neighbor against the secessionist threat.

Unfortunately, that support has included a readiness to breach international law. In late January, the Nigerian government rounded up a group of 47 Cameroonian opposition members and sent them back to Yaoundé, Cameroon's capital. This was done despite the opposition members’ status as asylum seekers and refugees.

The group included Sisiku Ayuk Tabe, leader of the self-proclaimed interim government of Ambazonia—who, along with his supporters, was denounced as a terrorist by the Biya government. On January 17, 2018, he and many of the other 46 persons were attending a meeting in a hotel in the Nigerian capital of Abuja. They were abducted and detained, without charges and in secret, by hooded agents of Nigeria’s State Security Service. They were not allowed to see a lawyer or their families. Nine days later, without a court order or a thought to how they’d be treated upon arrival, Nigeria expelled the oppositionists to Cameroon.

On arrival in Yaoundé, the government of Cameroon—in secret—took the 47 into custody. On January 29, 2018, a spokesman for Cameroon confirmed that the government had custody of the group. Nothing further was heard until April 9, when Cameroon’s information minister said, “All of them are doing very well, all of them are in very good health, all of them are enjoying whatever is enshrined in our constitution.”

But since neither their families nor legal representatives have been allowed access to these people, there is no way to verify the truth of the government’s claim. For all practical purposes, they have disappeared.

Four of the 47 expelled had Nigerian nationality. Cameroon does not presently allow dual nationality, and Nigerian law prohibits the expulsion of its nationals. By expelling these four, in other words, Nigeria effectively rendered them stateless—in violation of clear international law.

Nigeria’s conduct is also an assault on the very foundations of international refugee and human rights law. The 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, to which Nigeria is a leading party, prohibits the forced return—or “refoulement”—of a refugee “in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.’’

But the responses of regional human rights institutions of the African Union, as well as of the United Nations High Commissioners for Human Rights and for Refugees, have so far been muted. This is a mistake; if only to avoid exacerbating other crises in Africa, these institutions should be more visible and active in defense of basic rights.

Regardless, it is necessary to verify the whereabouts and safety of these 47 individuals, and to guarantee them access to redress. Pending these steps, the United Nations organs should reaffirm the inviolability of the principle of nonrefoulement and require Nigeria—a country with tens of thousands of refugees of its own—to provide verifiable guarantees that it is prepared to comply with this vital international principle.

It is also necessary to hold Cameroon to account for the numerous human rights violations committed in the course of the Anglophone crisis, including for the enforced disappearance of the 47 persons sent back by Nigeria, as well as the continuing heavy-handed way that security operations in the Anglophone regions are conducted.

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11 Comments

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Thanks for flagging up this flagrant violation of international law by every standard. There is a great need to highlight the vicious conflict in Cameroon which has been given scant attention.

It's high time for the International communities to call president Biya to order

Apt!! The principle of non refoulement has attained a jus cogent status in international law.. Pertinent issues were raised here and I do hope the United Nations organs does the needful.

How come so little has been heard about this? Why are the UN High Commissioner for Refugees keeping quiet? What have they done about it? This sounds too serious for nothing to be happening. If the allegations here are true, the Nigerian government has a lot to answer for. It's no wonder so many people are being killed in Nigeria. This is atrocious.

The Laws on non-refoulement is sadly now being observed in breach rather than compliance. Tanzania and Zaire interdicted Rwandans at their difficult moment.We now have the Cameroon situation. There is the need to test in court whether Article 33 of the 1951 Convention and it's 1967 protocol are trucial or suggestive.

The world continues to view the leadership of African countries as juvenile in nature. This sort of behavior renders African countries as useless in terms of collaboration. Many, such as myself, are hopeful to see a continent empowered, liberated, able to stand on its own and strengthened by its own resources.

A few days ago, more than 40 young people were killed by the Biya's army, more than 80 villages have been burnt down, some with old or sick persons who could not run away. This atrocity must end.

This is the sad truth. The Cameroonian government is committing a genocide in Anglophone region. Everyday unarmed civilians are massacred, women are raped, civilians are ruthlessly tortured, entire villages (73 in the last count) are burnt down along with the weak inside by Paul Biya government's armed forces. Tens of thousands of Anglophones flock on neighboring Nigerian borders where they are unwelcome to locals, and millions live in the hiding in bushes. The Anglophone youth have raised and unorganized armed resistance but they are overpowered by the terrorist government forces. The greatest threat in the Gulf of Guinea region, Paul Biya's government backed by France, must be taken down for peace and security. Paul Biya has rejected all call to dialogue, which the Anglophones require to be held about the constitutional change to restore Federalism, that they manage their own affairs in their federated State of Ambazonia, since the centralized system in the hands of corrupt and terrorist Francophone have led the country to near collapse.

Southern Cameroon(Ambazonia) was a former British trusteeship territory under the leaque of Nations. We have our right of self determination as enshrine by this law. The killing is too much to bare. UN should came and finish pur restoration of Southere Cameroon aka Ambazonia.

The Southern Cameroons problem is more of an economic than a political problem. There is nothing that indicates that the francophone led government and its majority population want a harmonious relationship with us Southern Cameroonians. Examples abound to support this conclusion. The moment a francophone hears that Southern Cameroonians would want to manage their own affairs like it was before 1972, they, together with the government immediately accuse us of trying to take control the oil and other resources. In every instant they have indicated that they prefer our resources to us. But this time around since its our legitimate right to self determination we have decided to go all the way and even most of us have to die for it. We would prefer to manage these resources the way we want and with whomever we choose. Its our right.

Thank you so much for adding your voice to this problem. The Central Africa region has an endemic problem of militarizing governance, and turning rather simplistic political and economic challenges into mass murder and repression of their people. The reflexes of the Cameroon government authorities, like the Congolese, Tchadian and others, are turning the CEMAC zone into the most regressive on earth -- right at the heart of an Africa that is struggling to find its feet. Governance in this region poses the biggest threat to Africa's development. Cameroon, the regional power house, needs to turn around this disappointing phenomena, instead of making it worse.

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