For almost three years of socio-political and cultural unrest in the Ecclesiastical Province of Bamenda, which equally is the administrative regions of the North West and South West, ‘The Anglophone Regions’, the Local Church and the entire Christian Community have been greatly challenged in the evangelical and prophetic mission to the distressed persons. The application of the cardinal principles of the Catholic Social Teaching (Respect for human dignity, Respect for human life, Preferential option for the poor and vulnerable, the Common good, Solidarity, Subsidiarity . . .) to name just these has never been more compelling than in this time of strife. The crisis began with legitimate claims on the social justice agenda through peaceful street protests, but speedily morphed into an armed conflict, with the number of forcefully displaced civilians on the rise in geometric proportion, including gruesome atrocities consisting of horrific acts of violence against civilians especially children and women, as well as the aged and people living with disabilities, propel the death toll.
The level of insensitivity or blatant refusal to adequately respond to the conflict by the national, regional and international communities, has no doubt given room to some international humanitarian organizations to rank the level of forced displacement as the world’s most neglected displacement crises. 1 This is said to be based on the fact that Cameroon scored very high on the 3 standard criteria; lack of funding, lack of media attention and political neglect.
INITIAL RESPONSE BY THE ARCHDIOCESE
The Archdiocese of Bamenda was the first respondent to the humanitarian crisis in April 2018, when the first group of 21 forcefully displaced persons including children as young as 7 years old with women and young boys and girls, appeared at the Cathedral premises running away from violence and insecurity by government forces in their homes and villages through the bushes for well over a week. Under the strict instruction 1 Norwegian Refugee Council (June, 2019) 3 of the Local Ordinary basic assistance was immediately made available to ensure the welfare of these persons. Caritas and Justice and Peace Commissions worked in collaboration to respond to their immediate basic needs. At first thought this was a situation that would be stabilized in a couple of days and people will go back to their homes and villages. Unfortunately the number increased as violence continued in the villages. After the first intervention, the services worked independently to attend to the needs of Victims within their capacity and the challenges multiplied by the day. For effective management of the growing number of victims and the possibility to attend to their needs properly a solution was arrived at – the formation of the Ad Hoc Committee.
AD HOC COMMITTEE
The Ad Hoc Committee was created on 25th June 2018 in the word of the Archbishop, “In order to jointly intensify our ministry of compassion so that we can reach out to all our victims, …” within the framework of this Committee, identification of internally displaced persons and registration thereafter is ongoing through the structures of the Church, individual Christians, families, Small Christian Communities, Mission Stations, Parishes and deaneries right up to diocesan level. Just every displaced person or households in which they live is identified and registered. It is immaterial whether they a Christians or not. It is important to recall the specific duties of each of the services as guarantee for effective results;
● The Health Commission assesses the health needs of the displaced persons and provides health care as the case may be. So far more than 3,000 persons with health needs and complaints ranging from Pre- natal consultations for Pregnant women, to normal delivery and Cesarean Session, and post-natal consultations for nursing mothers and children, minor surgical operations and treatment of patients with fatal wounds from gunshots, cases of malnutrition, acute malaria treatment, opportunistic diseases suffered by Aids patients, victims of rape and GBV to name just these.
● Social Welfare Caritas conducts needs assessments and takes lead in the distribution of direct supplies of food and non-food items, to this end about 2,000 households of an average of 6 persons per households have been served with basic supplies of kitchen utensils, buckets mattresses and blankets, while,
● Justice and Peace engages in identification of displaced persons and registration to build up statistics for our database.
So far our database reflects about 37,000 persons. It should be noted that persons continue to move when their security is threatened so the database is constantly updated. It is equally true that the number of displaced persons may be many more (cf. OCHA Situation Reports) than we have identified so the process continues. JPC also assists in distribution of supplies. This means protection continues to be a call for concern. In order to properly manage the cash donations that came in for the displaced persons an account was created at the Archbishop’s House to control cash flow for any financial assistance that comes. It should be noted that assistance came in from local efforts even before the creation of the Ad Hoc Committee in cash and kind. The statement of account attached to the report reveals the situation of the account especially with regard to what came in from the diocese of Portsmouth and this report is dedicated to the said donation.
GRANT FROM THE DIOCESE OF PORTSMOUTH
A huge financial assistance of Seven Million, Three Hundred and Six Thousands, Two Hundred and Seventy-One Francs (7,306,271) FCFA, an equivalence of £ 10,000 from the Diocese of Portsmouth positively changed the efforts of the Committee and the aspirations of the suffering and displaced persons. Many more victims were assisted in different forms through provision of food and non-food items, and health care. We can clearly notice that even before the said donation was credited into the account, there was a running deficit of almost half of the donation that was spent on health care. In total, healthcare took the lion’s share of 61.13%, while the rest of 38.87% went for food supplies and non-food items. This analysis shows that health needs are the direst concern so far. This may be because many organizations are engaged in food and non-food items supplies, while other areas 5 of protection are yet to witness as much assistance. For instance, illegal arrests and detentions continue at alarming levels, reconstitution of lost and burnt documents, provision of shelter and much more are important areas of need yet to be explored.
1. Insecurity is the major challenge the committee faces.
Civil disobedience has gone on uninterrupted for 21/2 years, with all Mondays declared as ‘Ghost Town’ days On such days, movements and businesses are restricted and completely shutdown as declared by the then civil rights activists now termed ‘Separatists. On such days any violation of these rules one may simply lose a limb or life to gunshots from crossfire or even targeted gunshots. At times these ghost town days exceed Mondays when there is a lockdown that may go on for 10 days or more under the same conditions. Only ambulances ply the roads especially Doctors without Boarders. Sometimes their ambulance is attacked and it becomes very difficult to provide first aid and other emergency assistance or even referrals of the wounded to other better equipped health units.
2. Protection is another challenge, which is a consequence of insecurity.
Access to displaced persons in the bushes and forests is practically impossible because of the roadblocks that are often unannounced. Unknown to anyone if these road blocks are tempered with, the ‘culprit’ is kidnapped by Non-State Armed Groups and taken to their camp where a ransom is generally paid in order to secure the release of the victim in question. Aggravated kidnappings is what scares humanitarian workers to reach out to the most needy displaced persons living in the bushes and forests. Another challenging form of protection is about persons who have lost everything including and most importantly identification papers (Birth/Marriage and death certificates, as well as land titles, academic certificates) and other related documentation through arson suffered in hundreds of villages and homes. These are mostly persons who become prey to illegal arrest and detention.
3. The inability to tidy up our database is a challenge because persons keep moving according to the security situation.
4. Financial ability to foot bills especially hospital bills is very challenging, for which reason we have only been focused on the IDPs leaving out refugees who are even more desperate.
5. Qualified human resource is also a challenge.
For instance the number of victims of rape an other gender-based violence needing not only medical support but psychological support and shelter are many who want to be taken care of exclusively by our services and we do not have staff qualified enough to attend to them as well as shelter to house them.
Despite the challenges mentioned above and many more, there is hope as our presence is assurance in itself to the displaced vulnerable and suffering persons. While we continue to do what is humanly possible we continue to pray relentlessly for the Almighty to touch the hearts of the powers that be to convene an inclusive dialogue in order to find a lasting solution to the conflict