By Andrew Nsoseka, & Njodzeka Danhatu
BUEA, Cameroon- The UN Sub-Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA, for Northwest and Southwest Regions has condemned the increasing threats to humanitarian care providers, insisting that they are neutral in the conflict, and as such should not be tagged and targeted.
The Sub-Office Coordinator, James Nunan, made the remarks, while addressing journalists in Buea, July 14. He told the press that there has been recently calls to attack humanitarian care-givers providing aiding those in need in the two Regions, allegedly because of the support of the United Nations Development Programme, UNDP, for the launched Presidential Plan for the reconstruction and development of the Northwest and Southwest, PPRD.
The Programme Coordinator said if such threats and attacks continue, then they will, at some time, be forced to suspend operations.
“In recent days and weeks, there has been lots of threats and misinformation spread on social media against humanitarian NGOs and UN humanitarian agencies operating in Northwest and Southwest. Some social media have incorrectly linked the work of humanitarians in the two Regions with the PPRD and the UDP.
“Due to the nature of this crisis, it is imperative that all humanitarian actors are seen as neutral and impartial. As such, it should be known that the humanitarian response is completely independent of both PPRD and UNDP,” Nunan stated.
According to Nunan, the organisation’s workers have received serious threats to their lives as they continue to provide humanitarian assistance to the affected 1.4 million people in these two Regions.
“There are lots of emotions; the situation is very volatile, and we try to stick under the radar, without anybody seeing us as being on one side or the other, whereas we are truly neutral. When you face these threats, you really look at it and think. If we have more attacks against the humanitarians, maybe we have to suspend our operations. I can guarantee you; I have seen men, women and children who are absolutely desperate for the assistance that we are providing,” he said.
The Coordinator did not actually call names of those issuing threats, but people over social media have condemned some Anglophone separatist leaders advocating for the independence of Cameroon’s English-speaking Regions for banning all UN activities on the Regions claiming that the institutions have aligned with their enemy.
“The calls for threats have disrupted OCHA’s activities and barred accessibility on the ground despite its principles of neutrality, independence and impartiality,” OCHA has said.
OCHA condemned threats and called on both the State and non-State actors to allow humanitarian workers do their work.
The UN Development Programme, UNDP, OCHA clarified, is the development arm of the UN, and they “do not conduct humanitarian activities and, as such, they have a different mandate and operate in accordance with the different principles.
“Given the nature of the crisis, it was not unexpected that some parties to the crisis would be critical of both PRRD as well as UNDP. As such, some of the Non-State Armed groups (NSAG) have called for lockdowns in the two Regions and this impacted on the ability of humanitarian organisations to conduct activities,” the Coordinator said.
Decrying the fact that humanitarian workers are now targeted, the OCHA Sub-Office Coordinator stated that such threats are serious and unacceptable. He stated that they do not move around with any protection or military to guard them, because “the only protection humanitarians have is their absolute neutrality. Since 2018, we have been operating in the two Regions with the understanding from both the Cameroon Government and the NSAG that we are completely neutral and with the sole objective of saving lives. It is vital that humanitarians can continue to operate safely with all stakeholders ensuring our safe passage.”
While assuring those in need that the humanitarian aid will continue to come in, Nunan said he does not want to imagine a case where their activities will be suspended because aid workers are threatened, kidnapped, or in the worst case scenario, killed.
“The message I want to communicate today is that the humanitarian organisations and their staff must be supported by all sides to the crisis to continue their life-saving work safely and that the humanitarian response continues based on fundamental humanitarian principles, including neutrality,” Nunan stated.
He also revealed that on monthly bases, the humanitarian response provides food assistance to 175,000 people. Even in the midst of COVID-19 and restrictions that came with it, OCHA says it supported more than 5,000 patients to receive primary healthcare using mobile clinics. 20,000 others are said to have received shelter and non-food item assistance, and that they continue on a daily bases to support victims of Gender based violence.