Cameroon/Nigeria (MNN/ODM) — Cameroon has expelled more than 3,000 Nigerians as part of the fight against Nigeria’s Islamic extremists who have launched attacks across borders.
What was meant to be an effort to protect its people is backfiring, though. Emily Fuentes with Open Doors explains that the calm right now is like the eye of a storm. “The authorities, the local ones, especially in Cameroon’s border towns, are seeing this be a better time than it has been, compared to the numerous attacks. So they might believe that it’s fine to send these Christians and others back.”
The United States has designated Boko Haram as an international terrorist group because Boko Haram has been involved in a bloody armed campaign in Nigeria since 2009. What that means is a lot of unprotected people on the move. Fuentes says, “By no means do we think that Boko Haram has stopped attacking or will stop future attacks in these areas. It’s absolutely vital that we are praying for these Christians and other minorities that are being attacked by them.” Recently, it announced it had carved out an Islamic territory northeast of the country. The group’s activities in Cameroon are more recent and on the rise.
The local economy, humanitarian work, and social life have all taken a hit from the activities of Boko Haram and the security response of the Cameroonian government, officials, residents, and development workers said.
In 2014, Open Doors assisted Christians displaced by Boko Haram violence in northern Cameroon, but the increased insecurity is expected to place them under even more pressure, adds Fuentes. “They truly feel like they’re living in the end days because of the constant fighting. Their hope is eternally in Jesus and in God’s salvation. I think that’s the truth that they’re clinging to.”
The UN estimates that 1.8 million people are at risk of food insecurity in Cameroon. Six million face epidemics while nearly 200,000 children already suffer from either severe acute malnutrition or milder forms.
As if to back up Fuentes’ statement, on Friday a massive bomb exploded in the market in Maiduguri, in northeastern Nigeria–the traditional heartland of Boko Haram violence. At least 6 died, and 11 were injured. On July 25, 20 people were killed when a 12-year-old girl blew herself up in a crowded bar in Maroua, northern Cameroon. Seventy-nine others were injured.
On Sunday (August 2), the Nigerian military said it had rescued 178 people–including 101 children and 67 women–taken captive by Boko Haram in the northern Nigerian state of Borno. That’s good news, right? Yes and no, admits Fuentes. “Many have seen horrific atrocities before their eyes simply for being Christians. It’s a lot of trauma that they’re dealing with.” Cameroon has for a long time been one of the weak links in the fight against Boko Haram, with its northern regions becoming a safe haven for militants.
There’s positive movement from Nigeria’s new government, but the reality on the ground is that renewed attacks have also seriously affected churches. Knowing they’re in the Boko Haram cross-hairs, thousands of believers have fled. But there’s a remnant, too, adds Fuentes. “At Open Doors, we believe it is so important for Christians who want to stay in their country, to make it possible so they CAN stay, by providing them with jobs and housing and all sorts of things like that because they are Christ’s light.”
A World Watch Monitor report from last September indicated Cameroon’s churches were trying to contain the influx of 60,000 Nigerian refugees and thousands of IDPs, who have found refuge in northern Cameroon. But churches were quickly overwhelmed. This is where Open Doors’ partners stepped in. They helped with “getting the needed trauma counseling for those who‘ve had to witness and endure so much, meeting their physical needs, helping them provide for their families just because it almost seems endless to them.”
There is yet some light to pierce the dark clouds gathering. Fuentes continues, “The #1 thing that persecuted Christians across the board ask for is for us to share their stories so more people can be praying.” Share their stories on Facebook, with your Bible study groups and churches, she adds, “so the whole body of Christ can be praying for these believes in Nigeria and throughout the world.”
Nigeria is ranked #10 on the Open Doors 2015 World Watch List (www.worldwatchlist.us) of the worst persecutors of Christians.