The world is facing the largest migration crisis since World War II. According to the UNHCR, there are currently 68.5 million forcibly displaced people globally.
Not only are the number of displaced people growing, this displacement is also increasingly prolonged, and the proportion of displaced people moving to urban settings is growing.
For this reason, there is a pressing need for humanitarian actors to adapt their crisis response to urban settings.
Cameroon currently has 1,214,714 “persons of concern,” including 275,711 Central African and 138,315 Nigerian refugees. Of these, 24,875 are urban refugees, living in the political capital Yaoundé and the economic capital Doula.
Many of these refugees chose not to stay in camps because they wanted to be independent and not rely on the assistance of foreign aid organizations. Others chose to live in the city just to be anonymous.
The reality for these urban refugees, though, is often very different from what they had imagined or hoped for. They share the challenges of those living in the poorest neighborhoods. Struggling to gain lawful employment and, as a result, often restricted to the informal economy, they are extremely poor and are often unable to meet even their basic needs.
Most of them face additional barriers because of their uncertain legal status and lack of proper documentation, which makes them vulnerable to exploitation, discrimination, and deportation.
60% of the world’s refugees and 80% of internally displaced people live in urban areas. Contrary to common perception, the vast majority of these people do not try to get to Europe or North America but settle in their neighboring countries.
For over six months, I followed two families of refugees from the Central African Republic (CAR) living in Cameroon’s capital and documented their daily challenges and struggles.
Pamela and Apollinaire and Frida and Tangui arrived in Cameroon more than eleven years ago, after escaping the ravages of war in the CAR. They settled in the center of Yaoundé, but after all this time, they still live on the edge of emergence, struggling to survive. Their stories are unique, yet all too familiar: poverty, exploitation, and yearning for a home and loved ones they may never see again.
I listened to their dreams, fears, and hopes for a better future.
Pamela posing with her children in their one-room home in the city of Yaoundé, Cameroon.
Pamela left Paoua in the CAR in January 2006, on a Sunday morning when rebel groups starting shooting in church. With her husband Apollinaire and their son, she fled through Bang, a little village on the border with Cameroon and then walked 10 days by foot before arriving at Ngaoundéré. During the journey, she and Apollinaire did occasional work, such as washing clothes and working on crops, to earn the money they needed to catch the train from Ngaoundéré to Yaoundé. Pamela then found a job in the city as a maid, but after refusing the sexual advances of her employer, she was accused of stealing and was fired on the spot. Many women testified they had similar experiences.