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Central African Republic Refugees Return from Cameroon

FILE - Refugees from Central Africa sit in the eastern Cameroonian village of Gado Badzere, near the city of Garoua-Boulai, not far from the border with Central Africa, March 13, 2014.

Thousands fled armed conflict in the Central African Republic to Cameroon in search of safety. Now some C.A.R refugees are returning home on a promise of peace by their homeland's government. For VOA, Moki Edwin Kindzeka reports.

Cameroon has been a haven for Central African Republic refugees since 2014, hosting some 300,000 displaced persons, mostly women and children.

But now, Bangui is telling C.A.R. refugees that peace has returned to their towns and villages, and is asking them to come back.

Out of 30,000 C.A.R. refugees in Gado Badzere camp in Cameroon, only 300 agreed to return home. At the Batouri-Kenzo centre in Cameroon’s Eastern Region, 150 have repatriated.

Cameroon itself is the scene of major humanitarian crises within its borders. It has become embroiled in the Lake Chad Basin Crisis with Nigeria, Chad and Niger and with armed groups seeking to form an independent state.

One of the C.A.R. refugees who is returning home, 35-year-old Robert Bissa, fled after a rebel attack on a military base destroyed his store where he was selling produce.

Bissa’s family assures him there are no attacks anymore and their village is peaceful. Because of that, Bissa says he hopes to go back to his farm and reopen his store.

Cameroon's Minister of Territorial Administration, Paul Atange Nji, says the C.A.R. repatriation effort began five years ago, but was suspended for a long period due to escalating violence and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Those who did decide to return home were brought to the Cameroon - C.A.R. border in buses and handed over to Bangui's Minister of Humanitarian Action, Virginie Baikoua.

The returning refugees have received "send-off" gifts of blankets, buckets, vegetable oil, rice and toiletries from the Cameroonian officials. But that offer isn't enough for many C.A.R. refugees to go back according to Olivier Beer, UNHCR's Cameroon representative.

“A majority of the refugees have not accepted to voluntarily return," he says, "because security is unstable in the C.A.R. But some towns and villages have been pacified by the C.A.R.’s military