Cameroon has forcibly repatriated more than 500 Nigerians who had fled into the country due to the Boko Haram insurgency, according to the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR).
A total of 517 Nigerians were sent back to their home country, including 313 who had applied for asylum, according to a UNHCR statement reported by AFP.
Boko Haram, a militant Islamist group that has now fragmented into two factions, took up arms against the Nigerian government in 2009.
The conflict, which has spread from northeast Nigeria to other countries in the Lake Chad region, has displaced more than 2 million people.
Cameroon displaced persons Cameroonian displaced people wait for food parcels at a food distribution center in Koza, in the extreme northern province, west of the Nigerian border, September 14, 2016. The Boko Haram insurgency has displaced millions of people in West Africa. REINNIER KAZE/AFP/Getty
UNHCR Cameroon tweeted that it was “very concerned by these repatriations and continues to advocate for access to asylum and the principle of non-refoulement.” Non-refoulement refers to the practice of not returning refugees to a country where they could face persecution.
UNHCR told AFP that it planned to sign an agreement with Nigeria and Cameroon on March 2 that would see 85,000 Nigerian refugees voluntarily resettled in their home country.
More than 61,000 refugees are currently living at the Minawao camp and a further 20,000 at the Logone-et-Chari camp in Cameroon’s Far North region.
Nigeria and its neighbours have cooperated closely in fighting Boko Haram, which split into a faction aligned with the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) and another loyal to long time leader Abubakar Shekau in 2016.
Five countries—Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon, Chad and Benin—contribute troops to a regional taskforce aimed at routing the militants. Cameroonian troops have also conducted cross-border operations against Boko Haram.
The militants have been pushed back in Nigeria, but still retain the capacity to carry out suicide and car bombings. Seven suicide bombers blew themselves up last week on the outskirts of Maiduguri, the Borno state capital in northeast Nigeria.