At least 5,000 Nigerian refugees have been repatriated from Cameroon at the start of a voluntary programme that seeks to evacuate the more than 200,000 who have fled to neighbouring countries because of Boko Haram insurgency.
Nigeria started the evacuation of the refugees in Chad, Niger and Cameroon on Monday.
The first batch of at least 5,000 refugees left Maroua, a Cameroonian town near Nigeria’s Borno state.
The refugees, who have spent six years in Cameroon’s Minawao refugee camp, travelled back home aboard buses.
“We have taken all the precautions and all the necessary measures for you to have a safe trip,” Cameroon’s Minister of Territorial Administration Paul Nji told the refugees at the start of the journey.
He said the journey was taking place in strict observation of Covid-19 protocols. He also announced that Cameroon provided a “special relief package” for the returnees as they start their new life.
Mr Lawan Wakilbe, the Special Adviser to the Governor of Borno state, said many towns were destroyed by Boko Haram, but in the past year, serious rehabilitation efforts have been ongoing.
“We are now ready to receive the returnees. They are going to live in new neighbourhoods,” Mr Wakilbe said in Maroua.
There are more than 49,800 Nigerian refugees in Cameroon, 120,000 in Chad and 49,000 in Niger.
The governor of Borno Prof Babagana Zulum confirmed the evacuation during a stakeholders meeting on the Implementation of Global Compact on Refugees.
Prof Zulum said that officials of the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development were in Cameroon to facilitate the repatriation of those who have volunteered to leave Cameroon.
The repatriation exercise will be extended to Chad and Niger, the governor said.