Life for many of the communities in the far north of Cameroon is one of constant fear and uncertainty. Thousands have been forced to flee for their lives after violent attacks by armed groups from neighbouring Nigeria, and an estimated 130,000 people have been displaced within the country. Their homes have been a target of attacks. Entire villages have watched their homes be destroyed, children taken and men killed. They are now relying on the generosity of their neighbours and extended family, but this is also putting strain on the communities struggling to accommodate and feed these new arrivals.
CARE was one of the first agencies to respond to the crisis in some of these most northern areas and since May 2015 over 2,500 households have been supported with core relief items and shelter materials, but much more assistance is desperately needed.
CARE emergency staff recently visited these villages to assess the situation and what she found was truly sobering. In some villages not a single boy was left, as all had been taken by armed groups. She spoke to members of the community hosting the displaced as well as those who had fled, who recounted their terrifying ordeals and the challenges they continue to face.
*All names changed for protection reasons
Despite limited resources, many village chiefs in the far north have done everything possible to try to help those who have fled, showing incredible amounts of generosity and kindness.
« Before the arrival of the people who were displaced I had 28 bags of millet in stock, now, one year later, I have only 3 left because I shared all the rest with those who had been displaced. I also gave up a part of my house and other rooms I have in the village to provide somewhere for them to stay for free as they don’t have the means to rent anything themselves. »
52 year old Hamadou is a retired, well respected, village elder. Ordinary villagers like Hamadou are seeing huge strains on their food stocks as well as other resources with the arrival of all the new people into the village.
« Before the crisis I would get through one bag of millet every 12 days, now I get through one bag every week because I am also looking after 16 displaced people including my sister, her children and their children, so now I am in charge of a family of 30 people – my own family and that of my sister who fled the Nigerian border. The situation is very difficult; normally I transport people and goods in my car to market to make money but my car is broken down at the moment and I have to manage with only some savings and my small pension. »
13 year old Fatima is one of many young girls that insurgents tried to force into marriage. She was lucky enough to escape, but many others have not been.
"I ran during the night, and I came across some men who stopped me and said that I either had to become their woman or they would kill me. I told them I would prefer to die than become their woman. They beat me badly and it is only thanks to the grace of God that I am still alive."
Amira and Irene are just two of the countless women widowed by the brutal attacks of armed groups.
"Before the crisis we lived with my husband and 3 children (two boys, one girl). We had to flee to save our lives, but while we were fleeing we ran into some insurgents. My husband hid us in a small cave and he surrendered himself to the insurgents in order to save us. He was tortured and killed in front of us, and we weren’t able to do anything. I had to stop myself from screaming out to avoid the same fate for myself and my children. When the men left I had to leave my husband’s naked body in the bush and keep running. Thank God, we arrived safely at my parents’ house. I re-live that scene every single day. I don’t think I will ever forget it for as long as I live."
" I ran from the war with my 3 children. My husband was killed in front of me and I have nothing left in my village now. All my belongings are with my neighbours. I am now living with my mother who welcomed us into her home. We have no food, clothes or shoes, and no soap for washing our clothes. Basically we have nothing, and nothing to start up a small business to help us earn money. Even if the conflict ends I am not ready to return."
Aminou now has to find a way to provide for his wife and ten children after losing everything in the attacks.
"I am a father of ten. Only a few months ago I was making a fair living for myself and my family where I was a farmer. One night armed men arrived at my house, they assaulted me and took all my belongings and my family and I had to run away. Thankfully I managed to escape with just a cut to my face. We walked many miles on foot to my native village where I am now staying with my wife and children."
When armed militants came to Youssouf’s village they killed nearly all the men and abducted the children; causing the rest to flee for their lives and leaving the village decimated and empty.
"The war started just one day before the beginning of the rainy season. We heard gunfire and the noise of exploding bombs. A few minutes after that armed insurgents came and went house to house killing the men and taking the young boys and girls and spreading terror and desolation throughout the village. The abducted girls were married by force and the boys were made to join their army. Two young boys were beaten in front of me just because they had something of value that the militants wanted and they refused to give it to them. It was horrible. This caused most of the population to leave our village."
21 year old Ibrahim managed to escape forced recruitment by armed groups when they came to his village. But most of his friends were not so lucky.
"My name is Ibrahim. I’m 21 years old and I was living with my parents. I had to quit school because my parents didn’t have the money to pay my school fees. I began selling fuel that I bought in a city on the border with Nigeria. It was a Wednesday when the militants attacked our village, I fled with all my family, but my uncle and one neighbour – a father of five – were killed, and we still don’t know what happened to the husband of my aunt. Many of my friends weren’t able to escape and I haven’t had any news from them. I think they have probably been killed or taken. We have been living here nearly a year with my grandfather. We have nothing to do and I would like to find work or a way to earn money."