New York, US - The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) and its partners said they are stepping up efforts to help the growing numbers of Central African Republic (CAR) refugees arriving ill in Cameroon due to hunger and exhaustion during their arduous flight from their war-torn country.
A UNHCR statement obtained by PANA in New York said most of the new arrivals from the CAR have spent weeks hiding in the bush without access to sufficient water and food and have walked great distances to reach safety in the eastern Cameroon.
'Most are fleeing anti-Balaka militiamen who have reportedly targeted Muslims in revenge attacks.
'An estimated 80 per cent of the refugees arriving in Cameroon are suffering from serious ailments such as malaria, diarrhoea, anaemia and respiratory infections, while more than 20 per cent of children are severely malnourished,' the agency said.
UNHCR spokesperson Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba also painted a grim picture of the situation, saying: 'Many lost relatives to hunger along the way or shortly after their arrival in Cameroon. They were also traumatised by the horrors they experienced in northwest CAR.
'One refugee could no longer eat meat after he witnessed someone being killed and cut into pieces by Anti-Balaka. Also, a woman whose husband was shot by the anti-Balaka lost six of her nine children to hunger when they were in the bush for seven weeks without food.'
She also noted that 16 refugees died after reaching Cameroon between January and February, including six from severe malnutrition.
The statement also quoted Mr. Dago Inegba, a UNHCR doctor, as saying one of the challenges facing medical workers is that people do not realise how serious malnutrition is and the importance of going straight to UNHCR or its partners for help.
Since March 2013, Cameroon has received 44,252 refugees from the CAR.