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MSF suspends medical activities in South-West Cameroon over ongoing staff detention

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  • MSF has suspended all medical activities in South-West region of Cameroon.
  • The suspension comes as we work to secure the release of four of our colleagues, unjustly detained since December 2021 and January 2022.
  • MSF remains open to dialogue with authorities and urges for the immediate release of all of our imprisoned staff members.

Buea/Yaoundé – Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is officially announcing the suspension of our humanitarian activities in South West region, Cameroon, three months after the detention of four of our staff members related to our medical work. Since their detention, there has yet to be significant progress in their cases to secure their release. Therefore, MSF decided to suspend our medical activities in South West region since 29 March, to work exclusively on securing the safe release of our colleagues.  

On 27 December 2021, two MSF staff members were arrested after the ambulance in which they were transferring a patient with gunshot wounds, in need of urgent assistance, was stopped at the Nguti (South West region, Cameroon) checkpoint. Despite our team having followed the humanitarian notification procedures agreed upon with the authorities, our colleagues were put under arrest and still remain in prison in Buea, at a pre-trial stage. They are being investigated for complicity with secessionism simply for carrying out their medical duties.

In the weeks that followed, two other MSF colleagues and collaborators were also arrested by the gendarmerie (armed police force). They are receiving legal counselling and MSF is in constant communication with them and their families.  

We find ourselves in an untenable position... our activities are required... [yet] those who provide medical support run the risk of being persecuted for doing their work. Sylvain Groulx, MSF Operations Manager of programmes in Central Africa.

In parallel with the legal procedures, MSF representatives engaged with the Cameroonian authorities and other stakeholders at different levels by providing information and clarity on our medical activities and procedures. This engagement aimed to facilitate their release but did not lead to significant progress in their cases. In February, in a report about the detentions commissioned by the Ministry of Defence, an independent Cameroonian organisation concluded that MSF and our colleagues should be exonerated of any wrongdoing. The report stated that we were acting in accordance with our humanitarian principles and that our colleagues should therefore be released immediately.  
“We find ourselves in an untenable position,” says Sylvain Groulx, MSF Operations Manager of programmes in Central Africa. “On the one hand, our activities are required, and on the other hand, those who provide medical support run the risk of being persecuted for doing their work.”

“In order to fulfil our duty to our patients, we need the basic preconditions in place to allow us to carry out our activities in a safe and secure environment,” says Groulx. “MSF remains available to continue the dialogue with the authorities to resolve this issue as soon as possible, so that we can resume our medical-humanitarian activities.”

As an international medical organisation, MSF provides impartial medical support to every patient in need, in line with medical ethics and international humanitarian law.
“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 groups involved, both state and non-state”, says Groulx. “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.” 

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