In 2017, the bulk of new displacement in Cameroon was in the Far North region, linked to the continued Boko Haram insurgency. Political violence in Anglophone areas of the country also brought about new displacements. These two conflicts led to 119,000 new displacements in 2017; bringing the total number of people living in displacement at the end of the year to 239,000. No cases of disaster-induced displacement were reported.
Average expected number of displacements per year – for sudden-onset hazards:
What causes displacement?
Internal displacement in Cameroon is largely concentrated in the Far North, linked with attacks by Boko Haram and Government operations against the group, and where many years of conflict have combined with climatic factors and low levels of socio-economic development to cause the movement of significant numbers of people over time.
Originating in North East Nigeria in 2002, Boko Haram first carried out attacks in Cameroon in 2013, with the Cameroonian government announcing its opposition to the group in 2014. The group is notorious for carrying out suicide attacks and raids, and abducting boys and girls in Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger. Fear of abduction of family members, suicide attacks and armed assaults, and counter insurgency operations by the Cameroonian army and the Multinational Joint Task Force, have all contributed to people leaving their homes in Cameroon’s Far North.
In 2017, counter insurgent activities by the Nigerian army are said to have pushed numerous Boko Haram factions over the border into Cameroon, leading to an increase in attacks by the group. An estimated 60 suicide attacks were carried out, representing a 50% increase on the previous year. New displacement also increased, with an estimated 99,000 new displacements occurring in the Far North in 2017, compared with 83,000 in 2016.
In addition, Boko Haram activities and associated military operations have served to exacerbate food insecurity in the region, as farmers cannot access their fields and local markets close in an area that is already challenging for agriculture due to poor soil quality and low and erratic rainfall. This, in combination with a lack of economic opportunities and low socio-economic development also fuels long term displacement risk.
Further driving displacement, political violence has erupted in the North West and South West regions. These regions have been Anglophone since colonial times, when Cameroon was divided by the British and French, retaining the English language even after unification with the larger French-speaking Cameroon in 1961. Tensions flared in late 2016, when a series of protests against the state turned violent, and a separatist movement has since formed, calling for an independent state. Although no data is available for 2016, there were an estimated 20,000 new displacements due to this crisis in 2017, and people additionally have fled across the border to Nigeria, although the exact number is unknown.
Cameroon is vulnerable to hazards, primarily drought and flash floods, which are a regular occurrence, particularly in the north of the country, which includes part of the Lake Chad area in the Sahel region and is semi-arid. Low levels of socio-economic development, in terms of income and access to services in the country means that there is a lack of disaster preparedness and coping capacity for commonly occurring hazards. For example, 30,000 people were displaced by countrywide flooding in 2012, which occurred after a period of prolonged drought which affected several Sahel countries between 2011 and 2012.
Where and how do people move?
The majority of IDPs in Cameroon live in the Far North region, where 219,337 IDPs were living at the end of 2017, largely concentrated in three districts: Mayo-Sava, Mayo-Tsanaga and Logone-et-Chari. The most common shelter arrangements were living with host families (45%), spontaneous sites (22%) and rented housing (15%).
Boko Haram activities and subsequent counterterrorism efforts by national and international forces have also reportedly had the opposite effect of limiting population movement, as people find themselves stuck between a preponderance of military checkpoints and multiple front lines. This impedes people from pursuing their usual livelihood activities or in the case of IDPs, from easily accessing their areas of origin, even for short periods of time.
A return intentions survey conducted by IOM in August 2017 in the Far North found that a vast majority (68%) of people surveyed did not want to return to their area of origin. The reasons cited were continued fear for their physical safety in their area of origin (71%), a feeling of comparative security in their host localities (36%), and a lack of economic means to return (23%).
As noted above, an additional estimated 20,000 people are displaced in the regions of South West and North West. It has been reported that the chaotic and sudden nature of this conflict has caused many people in these regions to stay in makeshift shelters in the bush.
What is life like for IDPs and communities hosting them?
Conflict in Cameroon has led to a range of humanitarian impacts, with food assistance, protection and WASH needs extremely high. Over 2.6 million people country-wide are in need of food assistance, while over 1.3 million people are in need of protection assistance, and over 1.4 million people are in need of WASH assistance. IDPs face particular challenges in terms of food security, protection and WASH, with the entirety of the IDP population requiring humanitarian assistance in these areas. Host communities are also a major target group for assistance programmes, as the influx of IDPs strains already limited personal resources and social services.
Lack of school attendance is also a problem with long-term repercussions. In the Far North, it was estimated that 93 schools were closed due to the crisis in December 2017, and 3 out of 4 children are out of school country-wide, at least some whom are out of school as a result of displacement.
Where does the data on displacement come from and what are the main challenges?
Data on conflict-induced displacement in Cameroon comes primarily from IOM’s Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM) programme, which conducts surveys in the Far North where the bulk of internal displacement is currently happening. There is good coverage, with most relevant communes covered by the surveys.
Due to the relatively new nature of the conflict in North West and South West, political sensitivities and a lack of access for humanitarian organisations, there was no in-depth data collection on IDP figures until 2018. The 2017 figures for this conflict came from ECHO, and are likely to be underestimates.
Little systematically collected information is available on disaster-induced displacement, due to the focus of international media and humanitarian organisations on the conflict, although some ad hoc information is available from local media.
|Displacement type||IDPs (Stock)||New Displacement (Flow)|
|Geographical disaggregation||Admin 2 or more||Admin 2 or more|
|Geographical coverage||All relevant areas covered||All relevant areas covered|
|Frequency of reporting||Other||Other|
|Disaggregation on sex||Yes||Yes|
|Disaggregation on age||Yes||Yes|
|Data triangulation||No Triangulation||No Triangulation|
|Data on settlement elsewhere||No||No|
|Data on returns||Partial||Partial|
|Data on local integration||No||No|
|Data on deaths||No||No|
|Data on births||No||No|
These figures refer to displacement triggered by the regional crisis caused by Boko Haram as well as the more recent clashes in the anglophone parts of the country. The Far North region of Cameroon is the most heavily affected of the country due to its geographical position in between Nigeria and Chad. The new displacement estimate is based on two metrics: the sum of caseloads reported as having been displaced within 2017 by IOM as part of the DTM programme for the Far North region, as well as individuals reported as having been displaced as a result of the protests and government response to the latter due to the crisis in the Anglophone regions (Southwest and Northwest), as reported by ECHO and ACAPS. The stock figure is based on IOM DTM.
What are governments currently doing to prevent and respond to displacement?
Cameroon has signed and ratified the African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa (also known as the Kampala Convention). The process of domesticating these principles into a domestic law or policy started in October 2017, in a consultative workshop held with UNHCR.
Regarding disasters, Cameroon released a National Climate Change Adaptation Plan in 2015, which sets out to guide the coordination and implementation of adaptation initiatives in Cameroon, across 5 different agro-ecological zones in the country. The aim of the Plan is to reduce the country's vulnerability over time to the impacts of climate change, by facilitating the integration of climate change adaptation into national policy and planning, particularly in development-related activities. This could help to reduce the risk of disaster-related displacement over time.