World Red Cross Day, May 8, has been observed in Cameroon with hundreds of Red Cross workers in towns and villages across the central African state asking for greater recognition and protection by their communities. The humanitarian workers say although they have not reported deaths, Red Cross workers are often victims of battery, Boko Haram terrorism, and separatist violence.
Hundreds of people, including beneficiaries of Red Cross services, humanitarian workers and government officials, assembled at the Yaoundé-headquartered Cameroon Red Cross Society to celebrate the 2022 World Red Cross Day.
Among them was Aliou Alim, a Red Cross volunteer who has worked in the northern town of Banyo, on Cameroon’s border with Nigeria.
Alim said in March he and seven colleagues were taken captive by people they were encouraging to take COVID-19 vaccines in Banyo. He said they were freed after local government officials explained to their captors that Red Cross workers are out to save lives.
Alim said every Cameroonian should be informed that the Red Cross serves humanity. He says besides protecting Red Cross workers, protagonists in conflict zones and civilians should respect and protect the Red Cross emblem, bearing in mind that humanitarian workers are there to rescue people in need and save lives.
Alim said many people along Cameroon’s border with Nigeria do not know the importance of Red Cross workers and very often refuse to collaborate with them. He said there is a misconception that the Red Cross emblem signifies adherence to a Western occult group trying to recruit Cameroonian followers.
The Red Cross says such allegations are unfounded and spread by people who are ignorant of Red Cross activities.
The government says Red Cross workers have been of great help saving lives in the central African state’s trouble spots. The government says the Red Cross has provided humanitarian assistance to several thousand of the 750,000 people fleeing the separatist crisis in the country’s English-speaking western regions.
Red Cross workers have also assisted about a third of the close to 3 million people displaced by Boko Haram terrorism in Cameroon and its northern neighbors, Chad and Nigeria, the government says.
Cecile Akame Mfoumou, the president of the Cameroon Red Cross Society, said close to 70,000 people volunteer or work as staff for the organization.
She said Cameroon needs more humanitarian workers to help people suffering as a result of conflicts generated by environmental challenges and climate change, Boko Haram terrorism on Cameroon’s northern border with Nigeria, the spillover of the crisis in the neighboring Central African Republic, and the separatist crisis in Cameroon’s western regions that have claimed close to 3,300 lives. She said she is encouraging Red Cross workers to be determined in their efforts to save lives, despite the challenges they face.
Cameroon says it will protect all humanitarian workers and asks communities to understand that the workers are there to help people in need.
Mfoumou said scores of Red Cross workers have complained of battery and restrictions in carrying out humanitarian activities in Cameroonian trouble zones. The Red Cross says many of its workers were chased by separatists from the English-speaking regions, but it does not report cases of killings.
World Red Cross Day is an annual celebration when people pay tribute to the organization for its contribution to helping those in need. The day also marks the birthday of Henry Dunant, who founded the International Committee of the Red Cross and received the first Nobel Peace Prize.