11 September 2020
A critical humanitarian concern in Cameroon is its growing population of internally displaced people (IDPs), which according to UNHCR has increased substantially in recent months because of violence in northern parts of the country. As of mid-2020 there were nearly one million IDPs in the country, in addition to the more than 400,000 refugees. But there appears to be little updated information about the impact of Covid-19 on these populations. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 17 refugees in Cameroon had tested positive for the disease as of 26 August, the latest 7 cases reported following a voluntary screening campaign “carried out by the regional delegation of public health of the East region from the 10 to 16 August” (OCHA, “Cameroon: Covid-19 Emergency,” Situation Report No. 06).
The pandemic is having an important impact on the movements into and across the country. In late March, for instance, growing fears about the spread of the coronavirus spurred thousands of IDPs located in camps in the west of the country to flee to other areas in the south and the north. In the meantime, the country has been blocking people from entering the country from Chad and the Central African Republic. Preventive measures including hand washing and temperature measurements were also implemented at border crossings, according to UNHCR.
UNHCR reported that the country was setting up 40 Refugee Housing Units to facilitate the provision of isolation and quarantine facilities in the East and Adamawa regions. A 14 day quarantine has been made compulsory for all refugees and migrants coming into the country to refugee camps and systematic controls of all new arrivals are made including temperature checks and medical assessments.
There have also been concerns about the impact of the pandemic in prisons. In March 2020, Human Rights Watch reported that local NGOs have decried overcrowding in the country’s prisons and the lack of sanitary measures and distancing. Two months later, the Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners (CL2P) revealed that many prisoners had already tested positive. The NGO warned that due to the lack of testing, this number was expected to rise. The Yaoundé prison, which has a population of more than 5,000 prisoners, has been particularly affected by the pandemic. In mid-April, following the death of several prisoners, a protest erupted at the prison. On 20 June, the Ministry of Justice said that 7,000 prisoners had been released since the start of the pandemic. Some 44 percent of those released tested positive for Covid-19, but it is unclear whether they were quarantined following their release.
- OCHA, “OCHA Cameroon COVID-19 Situation Report N°006 as of 26 August 2020”, 27 August 2020, https://www.humanitarianresponse.info/sites/www.humanitarianresponse.info/files/documents/files/ocha_cmr_covid-19_sitrep_-_6.pdf
- Human Rights Watch, “Cameroon Should Protect Prison Population from COVID-19,” 27 March 2020, https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/03/27/cameroon-should-protect-prison-population-covid-19
- The Committee For The Release of Political Prisoners, “For a Complete Decarceration in Yaoundé,” 17 May 2020, http://www.cl2p.org/pour-une-decarceration-complete-a-yaounde-for-a-complete-decarceration-in-yaounde/
- Africa 24, “Cameroun, Prévention Du Covid En Milieu Carcéral,“ Youtube, 20 June 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_jOlWWu97zk
- A. Djialeu, “Cameroun/Coronavirus : des morts suspects engendrent une manifestation des prisonniers à Kondengui,“ Actu Cameroun, 13 April 2020, https://actucameroun.com/2020/04/13/cameroun-coronavirus-des-morts-suspects-engendrent-une-manifestation-des-prisonniers-a-kondengui/
- UNHCR, “Cameroon: Covid-19 Situation,” 7 April 2020, https://reliefweb.int/report/cameroon/cameroun-covid-19-situation-7-april-2020
- UNHCR, “Operational Portal: Refugee Situations: Cameroon,” 31 August 2020, https://data2.unhcr.org/en/country/cmr
- Police Officers Standing in Front of Yaoundé Central Prison, (Africa 24, "Cameroon, Prévention du Covid en Milieu Carcéral," Youtube, Africa 24, 20 June 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_jOlWWu97zk&ab_channel=Africa24