Medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has suspended its work in Cameroon’s south-west region and demanded the release of four staff members who have been detained for months, accused of helping secessionists.
Two MSF staff were detained at a checkpoint in December when they were transferring a patient with gunshot wounds. Another two were held by Cameroonian gendarmerie in January.
The suspension, announced on Tuesday, means MSF is no longer active in Cameroon’s anglophone regions in the west of the country, where separatists have been in conflict with the state. Its work in the north-west region was suspended in 2020.
“We find ourselves in an untenable position: on the one hand our activities are required, and on the other hand those who provide the medical services run the risk of being persecuted for doing their work,” said Sylvain Groulx, operations manager for MSF in central Africa.
MSF said its staff had followed all procedures when transferring the wounded patient in December but have been held in pre-trial detention and are being investigated for aiding secessionists.
More than 500,000 people have been internally displaced in Cameroon’s anglophone regions during the fighting, which in recent months has included attacks on schools and health providers. Humanitarian groups have also had their work impeded by the theft of aid and restrictions imposed by armed groups.
The south-west region is also experiencing a cholera outbreak, with 100 new cases recorded in the past week, the health minister announced on Wednesday.
MSF, which had been helping in the response to the cholera epidemic, said it has been in talks with the authorities about its work and procedures to secure the release of the staff members but there has been no progress.
“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.”