Most displacement associated with conflict in Cameroon has historically occurred in the Far North, the poorest region in the country. The Boko Haram insurgency, which originates in Nigeria, and military operations against it have fuelled insecurity there, along with the activities of other armed groups. Boko Haram has been conducting its operations from within Cameroon since 2014, triggering the majority of new displacements recorded in the country each year.
A crisis in the North West and South West regions, which began in 2016 when the government cracked down on protests by their anglophone minority, escalated into a fully-fledged conflict in 2018, triggering 459,000 displacements. Another 26,000 new displacements associated with the anglophone conflict were recorded in 2019, bringing the total for the country as a whole to 67,000.
Average expected number of displacements per year – for sudden-onset hazards:
Internal displacement in Cameroon is concentrated in the Far North and associated with attacks by and against the Boko Haram insurgency and other non-state armed groups. Boko Haram 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 40,000 new displacements were recorded in the region in 2019.
The activities of Boko Haram and other armed groups and operations against them have also worsened food insecurity in the Far North, 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 triggered 459,000 new displacements. Humanitarian access to the two regions is restricted, which makes monitoring displacement difficult, but at least 26,000 new displacements were reported in 2019.
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. Sudden-onset hazards, mainly flooding, triggered 24,000 new displacements in 2019.
There were 969,000 people living in displacement in Cameroon as of the end of 2019, 466,000 of them in the anglophone regions. Other regions hosting IDPs from the two conflict areas included Ouest with 123,000, Littoral with 82,000, Centre with 23,600 and Adamaoua with 5,300.
The activities of Boko Haram and other armed groups and operations against them 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 their pursuit of livelihoods and, in the case of IDPs, prevents them from revisiting their areas of origin even for short periods.
A survey of return intentions conducted in the Far North by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in August 2017 found that 68 per cent of IDPs did not want to go back to their area of origin. Seventy-one per cent said they were afraid to do so, 36 per cent that they felt relatively secure in their host communities and 23 per cent that they did not have the economic means to return.
The main humanitarian needs in Cameroon are related to protection, food, and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH). Nearly half of the country’s IDPs live in the anglophone regions, where ongoing insecurity and attacks against civilians have led to a major protection crisis. The education sector has been particularly hard hit, with 80 per cent of children deprived of their schooling.
More than half of the population in the Far North, or 1.9 million people, are in need of humanitarian assistance. More than 74 per cent live in poverty. Half of the region’s population are under 18, and young people are particularly vulnerable to recruitment by armed groups and other grave human rights violations.
Data on conflict displacement in the Far North and anglophone regions comes primarily from IOM’s displacement tracking matrix (DTM) and situation reports from OCHA. The collection of in-depth displacement data for the anglophone crisis did not begin until 2018, and escalating violence in 2019 hampered humanitarian access and made assessments more difficult to conduct.
Little systematic information is available on disaster displacement, because international humanitarian organisations and media tend to focus on the country’s conflicts. Some ad hoc information is available from local media and event-based post-disaster needs assessments.