Sociocultural Adaptation of Internally Displaced Persons in Remote Settlements in Meme Division
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This work set out to examine the socio-cultural experiences of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in remote settlements in Meme Division, South West Region, Cameroon. The main objective of this work was to find out the sociocultural adaption of IDPs in remote settlements in Meme Division. It had as specific objectives to understand the adaptation strategies of IDPs, to examine and compare the lifestyles of IDPs in the new communities in relation to their former communities, and to examine their perception of the new environment. This qualitative study included the populations of remote settlements in Meme division. The snowball random technique was used to identify the participants, and the results indicated that social adaptation is still ongoing, traditional social insurance schemes, technology (use of solar and tracing network spot in every settlement) governance, religion, commerce, education, subsistence and health are still part of adaptation. Concerning settlements, the old people relocated closer to the roads, while youths and middle-aged persons settled far in the interior surrounded by forest. It was also noticed that most of the people working permanently are securing their farms from being taken over. While some have no means to go to urban areas, some just prefer the calmness and natural life in their new environment. New settlements have also been created by the IDPs. In conclusion, this study found out that most of the IDPs are living in these farmlands and bushes with a lot of resentment, and continue to grieve about the losses they have incurred.
KEYWORDS: Socio-cultural, Internally Displaced Persons, remote settlement and adaptation
The social integration of displaced persons is one of the most challenging moments for victims of forced migration. Forced displacement as a result of violent conflict like the case of the North west and South West Regions have ruined and exposed thousands to intense vulnerability. According to Assessment Report No. 28 by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in February 2021, more than 700.000 people had been internally displaced in these regions (Kaze, 2021). The plight of IDPs poses a challenge of humanitarian, political and legal dimensions that also affects the international migration strategies of states and international organisations. In some cases, the degree of displacement may be so high that one can speak of whole societies becoming displaced. When a country falls into the disarray of displacement, neighbouring countries are affected too, and violence and instability often spread throughout entire regions (Cohen and Deng, 2012). Internal displacement can constitute a threat to international peace and security, as has been recognised by the United Nations (UN) Security Council (Negri, 2021). Therefore, these circumstances call for regional and international responses for the collective interest in regional stability, as well as global peace and security. In this respect, IDPs constitute one of the important subjects to consider for enhancing the understanding of migration. The UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which seeks to strengthen the common commitment of universal peace and security, explicitly states that internal displacement is one of the immense challenges to sustainable development in our world today (Friedman & Gostin, 2016).
Despite the substantial body of academic literature on humanitarian assistance, the global crisis of internal displacement has emerged as one of the great human tragedies of our time and as a challenging issue on the international agenda. Increasing numbers of internally displaced persons (IDPs) have been forced from their homes by armed conflicts, systematic violations of human rights, natural disasters or other traumatic events (Cohen & Deng, 2012). Accounting for all such factors, the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement (GPID) define IDPs as “persons or groups of persons who have been forced or obliged to flee or to leave their homes or places of habitual residence, in particular as a result of or in order to avoid the effects of armed conflict, situations of generalised violence, violations of human rights or natural or human-made disasters and who have not crossed an internationally recognised State border” (Naidu & Benhura, 2015).
The growth in numbers of IDPs has accelerated during the past two decades mainly due to the Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan and South Sudan conflicts. More recently, the Syrian conflict which started in 2011 and the EU migration crisis of 2015 brought the plight of the forcibly displaced to global attention (Bilak, 2015). Today, the challenge is both with the numbers of people in need of assistance and with the political sensitivity of the forced migration issue. The Syrian crisis, immigration from poor to rich countries and extremist groups perpetrating violence and causing forced displacement in countries as diverse as Iraq, Nigeria or Afghanistan are now household topics at the centre of daily news, of which Cameroon is not an exception (Verme, 2017).
Looking at the environment and the daily activities it can be observed that much has changed for IDPs during the last years. With the present socio-cultural conditions in the North West and South West regions of Cameroon, many displaced persons remain voiceless for the most part. Their presence is hidden in statistics on refugees, the homeless, the sick and the impoverished. Most of the problems they face daily are documented only in testimonials from IDPs themselves given to aid agencies and set out in the field reports from international, regional and local organisations working with them (Nanda et al., 2021). The picture of obstacles often confronted by IDPs emerges quite clearly from their many stories with recurring themes. However, the various responses to these problems do not come through quite so clearly, and are not so transparent. On what basis was the request for a document denied? Why does one ministry deal with IDPs and another does not? Why are IDPs excluded from some assistance programmes? Why are IDPs subjected to more procedural requirements in accessing health services than other citizens? Does the problem lie in the implementation of the law or in the way officials interpret that law? The questions go on. The diverse answers are: everything has to be in accordance with the law, IDPs are citizens and must undergo equal treatment, the laws are not being implemented well, this will be solved, a new strategy/action plan will be drafted and adopted, etc. Yet, IDPs remain frustrated and continuously have to surpass numerous obstacles that cost money (Diagne & Entwisle, 2008; Orchard, 2018).
Internally displaced persons can be found on all continents but are especially present in Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and the former republics of the Soviet Union (Korn, 2001). While Africans constitute only 12 per cent of the global population, at the beginning of 2005, more than a third (that is, 2.7 million) of the world’s 9.5 million refugees and around half of the world’s 25 million IDPs are to be found in Africa. The total number of displaced people in Africa has been growing, and stood at a staggering 15 million over 15 years ago (Crisps, 2016). However, internal displacement is not a new phenomenon: it has and still is, obscured by the notion of state sovereignty, which is said to give governments “carte blanche” concerning the treatment of their population (Crips 2012).
Urban displacement has emerged as a new dimension to the challenges we face in meeting the humanitarian needs of IDPs and refugees. Besides disrupting the family life of the displaced and the social fabric of communities, the movement of people to non-camp, urban settings are further exacerbating the vulnerability of the already resident urban poor. The arrival of new IDPs and refugees’ further stresses already inadequate water and sanitation infrastructure, shelter and access to land. Competition for resources and livelihoods among the urban displaced and host populations increases social tension and can result in new conflict. The arrival of displaced people into a city or town may not only generate problems for the city but also jeopardise its ability to plan for its future. Overcrowding, use of space and amenities for living that should be available for education or recreation, for example, and uncontrolled urban sprawl is a drain and a burden on the ability of a city and its residents to see that conditions improve or at least do not deteriorate. Poorer cities undoubtedly are more vulnerable to this than wealthier ones. Whatever the nature of the city, the dynamics of rural-urban settlement (Tibaijuka, 2010).
Cities have always had a social and a political identity separate from, though linked to, that of national identity and national government. Increasingly, cities have their own ‘governments’ which build their relationships, have their networks and have a political presence both nationally and internationally. This provides opportunities for organisations that want to ensure that those who are displaced can live in security, with dignity and with the hope of improvement of their living conditions, (Cohen, 2004). In this study, the focus was on the Internally displaced persons who instead of relocating to the towns, have rather relocated to the farmlands and forest.
Throughout history, there have been numerous examples of how states subjected their citizens to massive displacement, starvation, killings and in some cases, genocide, while the rest of the world stood by and watched. State sovereignty still seems to form the main obstacle concerning the protection of the internally displaced. In the case of displaced persons who fled from domestic oppression and crossed a border, the international community did take action. In the rubble of the Second World War, the UNHCR was created in 1950; and the UNHC has been in charge of catering for internally displaced persons and refugees to date and this will include the internally displaced people of the ongoing crisis in the North West and South West Regions of Cameroon (Betts et al., 2013).
Internal displacement has become a very serious issue that needs proper attention. Since 2015, the Boko Haram’s regional insurgency has continued to cause displacement in Cameroon. By 2018, events in the Far North region were eclipsed by an internal conflict that erupted in the Northwest and Southwest Regions, home to the country’s Anglophone minority. A protest movement that began in 2016 escalated into sporadic fighting between armed separatists and the country’s military, triggering around 437,000 new displacements during the year. Another 30,000 people fled across the border into Nigeria. This brought a lot of attention to the said crisis that started just as a result of teachers’ and lawyers’ strike (UNHCR, 2019).
The Northwest and Southwest Regions of Cameroon with an estimated population of four million people have long been marginalised and have experienced occasional outbreaks of violence as the government suppressed protests. The latest violence has its roots in a strike declared by lawyer over the governments prioritising civil law over common law in the North west and South West Regions. Cameroon’s security forces launched a violent crackdown on protests in support of the strike, and numerous Anglophone activists were arrested, including 47 in Nigeria. This repression in turn led elements of the opposition to take up arms, and separatist groups calling for an independent “Ambazonia Republic” have engaged in an armed confrontation with the military since January 2018. The government has responded with full-blown counterinsurgency operations. It has been accused of engaging in extrajudicial executions, excessive use of force, the torture and ill-treatment of suspected separatists and other detainees and the burning of homes and property (UNHCR, 2019).
Military operations have been recorded in more than 100 villages in the Southwest and Northwest Regions since October 2017. Most of the inhabitants of the villages targeted have fled, and around 80 per cent are thought to have sought refuge in the forest, where they have no access to good shelter, clean water or proper sanitation. Meme Division in the Southwest region has borne the brunt of the crisis, producing and hosting the majority of IDPs. Education has been severely disrupted, as many schools have shut down partly as a result of the initial protests, and mostly because of the ban against reopening by armed groups have. Such groups have also burned down some schools, and threatened others who did not comply with the ban. Around 700,000 children have been impacted by school closures due to violence in the North-West and South-West regions of Cameroon, according to recent analysis by the United Nations humanitarian arm (Agwanda, 2020; OCHA, 2022).
The insecurity and violence has also undermined people’s livelihoods. Since a majority of the population depend on agriculture and small-scale trade for a living, the inability of the people to access their land and markets as a result of displacement resulting from the crisis has led to serious food shortages.
There has also been a total disorder in cultural aspects such as family and kinship systems, education, religion, traditional governance, socialization, religion, feeding habits, and technology. All of these cultural factors will be examined in detail to see how they have helped to shape the culture of the internally displaced people in the bushes.
Humanitarian needs in both the Southwest and Northwest regions are acute, but the response has been limited. Instances of new displacements have even been reported in the West and Littoral regions. The UN’s Humanitarian Response Plan published in May 2018 called for $15.2 million to reach 160,000 people, but the number of IDPs and others in need has since risen significantly. Very few international agencies are present on the ground, and those who have had to prioritise the little funding to address the basic needs of the newly displaced people. Only about 40% of the requested funding were secured. Education lies at the heart of Cameroon’s new conflict, and the posting of teachers who are not fluent in the English language to Anglophone schools has persisted despite intense and widespread opposition. This in part drove the tensions that triggered violence and displacement, later escalating into the insurrection and insurgence (UNHCR, 2018).
1.2 Statement of the problem
IDPs and returnees face numerous obstacles in returning to their normal lives because of insecurity, loss of livelihood, land or shelter and aggression from host communities. These issues are mostly social issues making it difficult for IDPs to adapt to their new environment
Extensively, much has been written about the internal displacement of peersons to urban areas, the UNHCR annual report of Internally Displaced Persons in Cameroon as of December 2020 highlighted that more people relocated to the major towns where survival is easy and so many opportunities to go start small businesses or grab other opportunities for livelihood.
Also, in a 2007 Global Protection Cluster Working Group report carried out by the UNHCR, observed that some of the IDPs were faced with religious/ ethnic disparities in their host communities. Cameroon is known to have about 250 ethnic groups which might be a serious issue to the IDPs. Some of these ethnic groups especially those in the Southwest Region have similar cultural characteristics to those of the Littoral Region (UNHCR, 2007).
This research seeks to explore the socio-cultural adaptation of Internally Displaced Persons in remote settlements in Meme Division.
1.3.2 Specific Objectives
- To understand IDPs’ reasons for migration to remote areas.
- To understand adaptation strategies of IDPs in remote areas.
- To examine the lifestyle of IDPs in newly inhabited communities.
- To examine IDPs’ perception of their new environment.
1.4.1 Main Question
How do IDPs’ sociocultural adapt in remote settlements in Meme Division?
1.4.2 Specific Questions
- What are the reasons for migration of IDPs to remote areas?
- What are their livelihood adaptation strategies in their new communities?
- How do they socially organise themselves?
- How do the IDPs perceive their present condition?