Medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), better known as Doctors Without Borders, has ceased operations in Cameroon’s southwest anglophone regions and requested the release of four staff members who have been held for months on suspicion of assisting secessionists.
In December, two MSF staff members were held at a checkpoint while transferring a patient with gunshot wounds. Cameroonian gendarmerie detained two more in January.
MSF is no longer functioning in Cameroon’s anglophone regions in the west of the country, where separatists have been in confrontation with the government following the suspension imposed on Tuesday. Its operations in the northwest were halted in 2020.
MSF is in an untenable position, according to Sylvain Groulx, operations manager for MSF in Central Africa. He added that on the one hand, our actions are essential, and on the other hand, individuals who provide medical services risk being prosecuted for doing their work.
MSF stated that its employees followed all regulations when transferring the injured patient in December, but that they are being kept in pre-trial detention and are being probed for helping secessionists.
During the fighting, which has included attacks on schools and health providers in recent months, more than 500,000 people have been internally displaced in Cameroon’s anglophone regions. Theft of aid and restrictions imposed by armed groups have also hampered the functioning of humanitarian organizations.
According to the health minister, the southwest region is also facing a cholera outbreak, with 100 new cases reported in the last week.
MSF, which has been assisting in the cholera response, said it had been in talks with authorities regarding its work and protocols in order to gain the release of the staff members, but that no progress had been made.
“To guarantee access to medical care and essential humanitarian aid while ensuring maximum security for our teams and patients, in Cameroon as elsewhere in the world, our teams are in contact with all armed actors involved, both state and non state,” Groulx said.
“This can by no means be considered as a lack of impartiality or an act of collusion with any parties to the ongoing violence in the anglophone regions.”
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