Cameroon: Sex workers at crossroads as violence over language differences worsens

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Since independence, Cameroon has been at war with itself over French and English languages.

Local and international human rights groups have raised concerns over ongoing and increasing gross violation of human rights of people living in the Anglophone region of Cameroon.

Activists on the ground say the violence, which has been escalating for the last three years, has left the Anglophone region vulnerable and defenseless.

Things have been made worse by fighting between government soldiers and militants calling for independence of the region. On one hand, the government supports the violence through its military and by shutting down communication channels such as the Internet. On the other, separatists have been trying to push back the soldiers.

Last year, several activists were arrested for alleged incitement when they raised concerns over apparent gross violations in the region. Others have been charged with promoting ‘terrorism’, for calling for segregation of the Anglophone region.

Like a majority of English speakers, sex workers in the region are caught in between violent armed separatists and brutal government soldiers. Sex workers can barely work because of a curfew in place, destruction of their hot spots and communities centers. There is also the fact that most of their clients have fled to the urban centers or to the neighbouring Nigeria.

The violence has led to destruction of villages, homes and other amenities. Sex workers there say provision of vital services like health and education has been affected. Sex workers face further discrimination since they are unable to access judicial and government services.

According to Alima Jacky of Association New Way+ multiple displacements of the general population has pushed sex workers to economic difficulties because of a curfew imposed last year and shortage of clients.

She says the organisation provides limited services to migrant sex workers.

“ We help those we can with food, clothing and shelter. We also do counselling to help them integrate,” she says.

For those living with HIV, the organisation refers them to friendly community health centres.

She says there has been attacks since the start of the new year and those who have fled would not be returning soon.

There are concerns that the political instability will increase human trafficking and exploitation of sex workers.

African Sex Workers Alliance (ASWA) member, Alcondoms that operates in the French region says migration to big cities perceived to be secure has increased. The migrants and their families have, however, nowhere to live and most have put up camps that have no basic needs such as food, water, health and education.

Due to the violence and government clampdown, sex workers especially those living with HIV cannot access ARVs and other vital commodities.

Future Young West, an LGBT organisation working in one of the French speaking areas says outreach and advocacy activities have been affected because of an imposed tax on human rights organisations deemed as ‘terrorist groups’.

For the last four years, Cameroon has been at war with itself over language differences; English and French.

Things have escalated into deadly violence in the last one year as calls for autonomy or better integration grow.

The northwestern and southwestern regions of the country speak English due to its colonial heritage. The rest of the population speaks French. This has led to constant clashes mainly driven by calls for independence by the Anglophone region and also protests against outright discrimination that has denied the English speakers equal opportunity in all sectors.

The current government, which has been in power for 36 years, has invested little in education, health and other public services.

Politics of national identity reignited in 2016 as the sitting President Paul Biya administration accelerated policies that marginalised English speakers and cracked down violently on peaceful protests against demands that French be spoken in schools and courts in Anglophone regions.

According to International Crisis Group, in 2018 soldiers burnt at least 100 Anglophone villages to the ground as part of the crackdown that forced more than 20, 000 people to migrate to Nigeria. It is estimated that more than 300,000 people have fled their homes since November 2016.

In 1961 French Cameroon and the former British Southern Cameroons were unified, uneasily, in a federation that gave the Anglophone regions autonomy. In 1972, Cameroon was ‘united’, effectively giving the francophone majority complete control. Since then, Anglophones have complained of being marginalised and oppressed.

Despite calls for a solution to the crisis by the international community and human rights organisations, the situation seems to get worse as government soldiers and separatists continue fighting.

 

 

 

 

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