Central African Republic refugees in Cameroon have started returning home after fleeing political and sectarian violence there since 2014. There are around 300,000 C.A.R. refugees in Cameroon, most of them women and children. Hundreds have agreed to return home after Bangui promised peace has returned to their towns and villages.

Cameroonian officials handed out food and blankets at a camp in Gado Badzere Wednesday to about 300 Central African refugees who agreed to return home.

Gado Badzere hosts more than 30,000 C.A.R. refugees out of 300,000 who fled conflict.

Thirty-five-year-old farmer Robert Bissa is one of the refugees who is returning this week to the Central African Republic.

He left the C.A.R. in 2017 after a rebel attack on a military base killed civilians and destroyed the shop where he sold his produce.

Bissa said he received assurances from his family back home that peace has returned to his village in the south of the C.A.R. He said he intends to go back to his farm and grow beans and groundnuts.

Cameroon authorities and the U.N.’s refugee agency (the UNHCR) say 2,500 refugees, most of them women and children, have agreed to return home before the end of this year.

But UNHCR Cameroon representative Olivier Beer said most of the refugees in Cameroon are still reluctant.

Beer said a majority of the refugees have not accepted to voluntarily return because security is unstable in the C.A.R. But he said there are some towns and villages that have been pacified by the C.A.R.’s military.

A C.A.R. official receiving the refugees on the border said they would be socially and economically re-integrated and that their safety and security would be assured.

Cameroon’s territorial administration minister, Paul Atanga Nji, said militaries on both sides will protect refugees as they were returning home.

Nji said there are still problems of C.A.R. rebels crossing into Cameroon to steal supplies and abduct civilians for ransom.

“It is important to reiterate the instruction of President Paul Biya that the departure [of refugees] must be voluntary and the convoy must have all the necessary security measures. We have asked the security forces [military] in Cameroon to accompany the convoy and by the time we get to the boundary (border) the security forces military from the neighboring country [C.A.R.] will continue with the convoy,” he said.

Violence erupted among armed groups in the C.A.R. in 2013, when then-President Francoise Bozize was ousted by the Séléka, a Muslim minority rebel coalition.

In January 2021, hundreds of C.A.R. civilians fled sporadic clashes after the presidential election, many of them to Cameroon.

The U.N. says since 2013, close to a million Central Africans have fled conflict to neighboring Cameroon, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria.

The voluntary repatriation of C.A.R. refugees began in 2016 but was suspended in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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