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Tackling refugee crisis in Nigeria; lessons to learn from CRRI sustainability strategy

by Atlantic Chronicles
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CRRI staff giving a talk to refugees at Ikyogen refugee settlement in Benue state

By Sah Terence Animbom

For seven years now, the North West and South West regions of Cameroon, have seen a deadly armed conflict that has caused tremendous losses in terms of property and human lives. The United Nations Refugee Agency UNCHR in March 2023 reported that there are 86,000 Cameroonian refugee men, women and children registered across six states in Nigeria; Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Benue, Cross River, Enugu and Taraba States.

The UNCHR was only able to provide cash base assistance to 18,000 refugees in Cross River and Benue states, indicating a high need by the remaining number of refugees.

Between May 21 and 31, 2023, the UNCHR received 300 new refugees across several refugee camps in Nigeria following fresh deadly clashes between Non State Armed Groups NSAGs and regular military forces across some Anglophone communities in the English Speaking regions of Cameroon.

While the major immediate needs of many refugees who arrive Nigeria from Cameroon are feeding and shelter, the long term need becomes viable sources of income to carter for basic daily needs. Cameroonian refugees in Nigeria face numerous challenges from integrating in some host communities to finding farm lands and grappling with insecurity brought about by the Fulani herdsmen in Northern Nigeria.

Cameroonian refugees in Taraba State in Northern Nigeria find it difficult to catch up with rents and daily sustenance. They live in host communities with Nigerian locals and sometimes feel that their rents have been unduly increased by the locals.  To catch up with feeding needs, some who are financially viable have acquired farm lands close by on rent while others have to go far off to distant farming areas often disputed by Fulani herdsmen with locals, breeding another deadly insecurity crisis in Northern Nigeria that has caused the raping and maiming of several young women.

Community Refugee Relief Initiative CRRI is one of the many humanitarian organizations giving humanitarian aid to Cameroonian Refugees in Nigeria. It implores a unique strategy, employing skilled Cameroonian refugees who abandoned their jobs and livelihoods in Cameroon and fled to Nigeria to run their programs across refugee settlements in Nigeria.

Another unique way CRRI is using to impact the lives of refugees in Nigeria is giving livelihood skills training to some refugees who express a need to be trained in various vocational disciplines. Through their Vocational training centers in Ikom, Ogoja and Taraba state, they have so far trained over 400 Cameroonian refugees across three states in Nigeria.

They are trained in ICTs, secretarial duties, graphics design, tailoring, carpentry, motor mechanics, hairdressing, aluminum and glass works, then empowered with complete startup kits to establish their own workshops.

As part of World Refugee Day activities, the CRRI board chair Dr. Celestine Atangcho accompanied by his board members from the US on June 19, 2023, graduated 51 trainees in eight vocational disciplines from Abong, Bisau, and Takum in Taraba state, Northern Nigeria.

They also donated food and non-food items to over 300 Cameroonian refugees settled in the area.

In Benue State, they took over a ton of food and non-food items to the UNHCR refugee settlement in Ikogyen, Benue state Nigeria where there are over 14,000 Cameroonian refugees.

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Entrance to Ikyogen refugee settlement

While communing with over 300 trainees drawn from three refugee settlements Adagom 1, 3 and Okende in Cross river states, CRRI organized a soccer tournament to create recreational moments among refugees. Dr. Celestine and board members witnessed the final of the soccer tournament of June 20, 2023 at the Adagom 3, refugee settlement which is the biggest Cameroonians refugee settlement in Nigeria.

CRRI has trained about 50 refugees in Ikom, Cross River State in Nigeria as trainers in various vocational disciplines and established a center for them to train other refugees. Dr. Celestine Atangcho says, “we believe in empowering refugees to give back to the community while making a living for themselves. We have established a state of the art vocational training center in Ikom, Cross River State to enable those we have trained to have a place to carry out their personal projects while gathering money to establish fully elsewhere, while also ploughing back the knowledge to other refugees. This to us is a more sustainable way of doing it with limited resources.” He said.

While refugees in Nigeria continue to pray for a quick return to peace in the North West and South West regions of Cameroon, many have already started putting their skills into great use in Nigeria.

Organizations continue to look for and implore more sustainable ways of humanitarian intervention as they tackle the Cameroonian refugee crisis in Nigeria.

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