Historically, most displacement associated with conflict in Cameroon has occurred in the Far North region, the poorest region in the country. There, the regional threat of Boko Haram, originating from Nigeria, and government’s counter-insurgency operations has led to insecurity and subsequent displacement. Since 2014, the group has been conducting operations directly on Cameroonian soil, leading to the majority of new displacements recorded each year in the country.
In 2018, however, the crisis in the Northwest and Southwest regions, which began in 2016 when the government cracked down on protests held by the Anglophone minority, has escalated into a fully-fledged conflict. As many as 459,000 new displacements were recorded in 2018, 437,000 of which were associated with the conflict in the Anglophone region.
Average expected number of displacements per year – for sudden-onset hazards:
What causes displacement?
Internal displacement in Cameroon is concentrated in the Far North region and associated with attacks by and against Boko Haram. The group originated in north-east Nigeria in 2002, and carried out its first attacks in Cameroon in 2013. It entered into open confrontation with the Cameroonian government the following year. It is notorious for carrying out suicide attacks, raids and abducting boys and girls in Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger. Boko Haram’s activities, fear of the group and counterinsurgency operations by the Cameroonian army and the Multinational Joint Task Force have all contributed to displacement in the Far North. Around 21,600 new displacements were recorded in the Far North in 2018, a considerable decrease from 2016 and 2017.
Boko Haram’s activities and operations against it have also worsened food insecurity in the region, leaving farmers unable to access their fields and local markets in areas already challenging for agriculture because of poor soil quality and low and erratic rainfall. These factors have combined with a lack of economic opportunities and low socioeconomic development to displace significant numbers of people and fuel long term displacement risk.
Conflict has also erupted in anglophone areas of Cameroon, particularly the North West and South West regions, which have been English-speaking since colonial times when Britain and France divided the country between them. The regions retained their language 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. A full-fledged insurgency erupted in the region in 2018 which led to 459,000 new displacements.
Cameroon is also vulnerable to natural hazards. Drought and flash floods are a regular occurrence, particularly in the semi-arid north of the country, which touches the Lake Chad area in the Sahel region. Low levels of socioeconomic development mean there is a lack of disaster preparedness and coping capacity for common hazards. Countrywide flooding following a period of prolonged drought that affected several Sahel countries between 2011 and 2012 caused around 30,000 new displacements.
Where and how do people move?
Last year, more IDPs were in the Anglophone region than in the Far North region. By the end of the year, 668,000 IDPs were recorded throughout the country, 437,000 of which were in the Anglophone North-West and South-West regions. Meme division bore the brunt of the displacement, hosting and producing the majority of IDPs.
Boko Haram activities and operations against it have restricted movement as well as triggering displacement in the Far North. People find themselves stuck between the many military checkpoints and frontlines, which impedes them from pursuing their livelihoods and, in the case of IDPs, accessing their areas of origin, even for short periods.
A survey of return intentions conducted in the Far North region by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in November 2018 found that 68 per cent of IDPs did not want to go back to their area of origin. Reasons for this were diverse. Sixty-four per cent cited persistent fear or trauma as a major barrier to returning, 31 per cent feeling relatively secure in their host communities, 29 percent a lack of military presence in the area of origin and 17 per cent said they did not have the economic means to return.
What is life like for IDPs and communities hosting them?
The main humanitarian needs in the various regions of Cameroon are related to protection, food and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH).
The four regions in the North-West and South-West now host 40 per cent of the total displaced population in Cameroon. On-going insecurity and attacks against civilians are causing a major protection crisis in the regions. The education sector has been particularly hard hit, with 80 per cent of children deprived of education in the regions.
Cameroon’s Far North Region is also affected by the Boko Haram insurgency and more than half of the population in the region, or 1.9 million people, are in need of humanitarian assistance as a result. With the poverty rate at 74 per cent and half the population under the age of 18, youth are particularly vulnerable to recruitment by non-state armed actors and other grave child rights violations.
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.
IDMC’s estimates of the total number of IDPs in Cameroon and the number of new displacements in 2018 are based on data obtained from IOM. The figures include people displaced by the regional crisis caused by Boko Haram in the Far North region, and violence in the anglophone Northwest, Southwest and Littoral regions of the country. The anglophone crisis has worsened significantly, leading to assessments in new regions and accounting for the notable increase in new displacements and the number of IDPs in 2018.
Based on its analysis of IOM’s data on the number of IDPs reported as having returned, IDMC accounts for the 288,000 people who returned to undamaged houses and the 94,000 living in damaged or destroyed housing or shelters as having achieved partial solutions, due to their living conditions and general lack of security in those areas.
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.