Urban refugees: Stories of survival

The world is facing the largest refugee crisis since World War II. Not only are the numbers growing, and displacement becoming more prolonged, but the face of the refugee crisis is changing - it is now much more of an urban problem.

With increasing numbers of displaced people settling in typically the poorest districts of the world’s cities, aid agencies are now being required to urgently rethink their response programmes to address those far more complicated needs - the extent of which our slideshow on refugees in Cameroon explores below.

According to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, Cameroon currently has 1.2 million “persons of concern”, including 276,000 Central African Republic (CAR) and 138,000 Nigerian refugees. Of these, roughly 25,000 are urban refugees, living in the political capital, Yaoundé, and the port city of Doula.

Many of these refugees chose not to stay in camps because they wanted to be independent, hoping they would find greater opportunities in cities, free of dependence on foreign aid rations. Others preferred the anonymity of city life.

The reality for urban refugees, though, is often a far harder struggle than they had anticipated. Finding work is the first challenge, complicated by the additional barriers they face because of their uncertain legal status and lack of proper documentation. That makes them vulnerable to exploitation, discrimination, and deportation - forcing them to the economic margins.

For over six months, I followed two families of refugees from the CAR living inYaoundéand documented their daily challenges and struggles. They had fled a rebellion that began in 2004 in the northeast of the country, which displaced tens of thousands as the fighting intensified.

Pamela and Apollinaire, and Frida and Tangui, arrived in Cameroon more than 11 years ago. They settled in the center of Yaoundé, but after all this time, they still live precariously, struggling to survive. Their stories are unique, yet all too familiar: poverty, exploitation, and a yearning for a better future. Memories of home, loss and loved ones they may never see again.

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