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Cameroon 2019 Crime & Safety Report


This is an annual report produced in conjunction with the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Embassy in Yaoundé, Cameroon.

 

The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses Cameroon at Level 2, indicating travelers should exercise increased caution in the country due to crime, terrorism, and civil unrest. Do Not Travel to North, Far North, Northwest and Southwest Regions, and Parts of East and Adamawa Regions due to crime and kidnapping; Far North Region due to terrorism; and Northwest and Southwest Regions due to armed conflict.

 

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

 

The U.S. Embassy in Yaoundé does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The American Citizen Services (ACS) Unit cannot recommend a particular individual or location and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.

 

Review OSAC’s Cameroon-specific webpage for original OSAC reports, consular alerts, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

 

High unemployment and an under-equipped police force continue to fuel criminality in Yaoundé, Douala, and other cities. An influx of refugees fleeing conflicts in the Central African Republic (CAR) and Nigeria has strained Cameroon’s economy, putting pressure on already weak basic social services and exacerbating overcrowding of already densely populated urban and peri-urban areas, especially in the East Region. Cameroon’s borders remain porous, exacerbating the potential for spillover from neighboring countries. At the same time, the ongoing unrest and resultant humanitarian crisis in the country’s Anglophone regions has displaced more than half a million people within the Northwest and Southwest regions, as well in the neighboring Littoral and West regions. Lack of access to basic services and livelihood opportunities have increased the vulnerability of displaced persons and led to negative coping mechanisms, including crime and armed banditry, particularly around areas where those fleeing instability have resettled.

 

Crime Threats

 

There is serious risk from crime in Yaoundé. Criminal activity is a major concern for the official and private U.S. communities in Cameroon. Most crime is economically motivated. Street crime is endemic in major metropolitan areas, and ranges from opportunistic to violent in nature. Low-level and more sophisticated criminals continue to target wealthy Cameroonians, expatriates, and members of the diplomatic community. Criminals have robbed expatriates as well as locals inside and outside their residences, on the street, in restaurants, and in shops. Pickpockets operate at virtually all large gatherings and soccer matches, as well as at airports. Thieves often attempt to distract a victim by asking questions or bumping/jostling them, allowing an accomplice to snatch valuables.

 

Criminals may be armed. Often, thieves use knives or razor blades to cut valuables out of pockets, handbags, or backpacks. Thieves may also draw victims in close and place the tip of a knife or other sharp object in the victim’s side, while leading the victim to an isolated location or crowd before taking or demanding money. Thieves routinely use motorcycles to conduct drive-by snatchings of purses and other valuables. Theft by intimidation or extortion is also a common tactic, with criminal groups brandishing machetes and using them in the face of resistance or non-compliance.

 

Generally, there are upticks in street crime, thefts from occupied and unoccupied vehicles, residential break-ins, highway banditry, and armed robberies in the months of November and December due to the holidays. These crimes often escalate to violence, especially when victims resist or fight back; victims should comply with the demands of criminals as much as possible. Many crimes involve an “inside man” and target individuals or locations associated with payrolls, money transfers, or large sums of cash.

 

Theft of items from hotel rooms is common. Home invasions by gangs occur in wealthier neighborhoods, especially at locations without 24-hour guards and residential security enhancements (e.g., perimeter walls, window grilles, solid-core/metal doors).

 

Carjacking is less common around Yaoundé; however, it remains a concern throughout the country and has led to deadly confrontations.

 

Violent crime, including armed robbery and carjacking, has increased around Douala and some towns in Littoral region. Internal displacement and economic desperation stemming from the Anglophone crisis are likely drivers of this trend.

 

Commercial scams targeting foreigners, including U.S. citizens, continue to be a problem. The scams generally involve phony offers of lucrative sales/business opportunities and requests for additional funds to pay for unforeseen airport and/or customs fees.

 

Cybersecurity Issues

 

The Embassy and members of federal law enforcement have identified a wide range of internet-scams based in Cameroon. These schemes cover a broad spectrum of bogus activities, including child adoptions, insurance claims, dating scams, real estate, and the offer of goods/services, such as domestic services, agricultural products, antiques, and exotic/domesticated animals. Often, these cyber scams involve “advance fee” requests; frequently, victims receive little/nothing in return.

 

In 2016, a U.S. citizen was the victim of attempted blackmail at the hands of an individual he had met via social media. During a number of video chat sessions, the victim participated in consensual, sexually explicit activity. The individual recorded the activity and was threatening to turn the video over to the police as part of a criminal complaint unless the victim met the individual’s demand for money. 

 

A recent development in cyber scams has been sending threatening emails via text message, WhatsApp, or other social media, demanding that recipients demonstrate they have “chosen a side” in the Anglophone crisis – either the separatists’ or the government’s – by sending mobile funds to the scammer. Scammer affiliation with separatist elements or the government is immaterial; they may be unaffiliated criminals exploiting the crisis for financial gain.

 

Other Areas of Concern

 

The U.S. Embassy’s ability to provide consular services in remote and rural areas of Cameroon is extremely limited due to official travel restrictions and security concerns. The U.S. Embassy restricts U.S. official travel to the North and Far North regions, along with parts of the East Region bordering CAR due to risk of violent crime and terrorism. All Embassy travel to these three regions requires advance coordination with host-nation security forces due to terrorist and criminal activities including attacks and kidnappings. Due to the increasingly violent conflict in the Anglophone Regions, the Embassy also restricts mission-essential personnel travel to Northwest and Southwest Regions.

 

The State Department warns U.S. citizens to avoid all travel to the North and Far North Regions because of terrorist threats – including kidnapping – presented by ISIS-WA and Boko Haram. Each group has actively targeted foreign residents, tourists, and government leaders in the North and Far North Region, and have reportedly kidnapped at least 37 foreigners altogether since 2013. Since 2015, these groups have carried out dozens of suicide bombings in the North and Far North Regions, including in Maroua; in recent years, successful attacks have been limited to the border areas with Nigeria.

 

There has been a significant escalation in violence in the Northwest and Southwest Regions by both the government and separatist parties to the conflict over the last 18 months; avoid travel to these regions. A U.S. citizen traveling by road died in crossfire between separatists and Cameroonian security forces in the Northwest region in late 2018.

 

Cameroon’s borders with many of its neighbors remain porous, allowing the activities of criminals, terrorist groups, political militants and other armed actors to spill over into Cameroonian territory from other countries, especially Nigeria, Chad, and CAR. In addition, cross-border migration occurs frequently between Cameroon and its neighbors due to normal commercial activities or instability-driven humanitarian flight. Military operations sometimes cross into Cameroon. Exercise extreme caution within 60 miles of the following Cameroon’s borders:

 

·         Cameroon’s border in the North and Adamawa Regions, which abuts Nigeria’s Adamawa State, as Boko Haram and ISIS-WA elements are active in the area;

·         The border area with Chad due to terrorist activity; and

·         The border areas with the Central Africa Republic due to criminality and the possibility of encountering armed groups.

 

Avoid travel after dark throughout the country due to the heightened risk for traffic accidents and increased criminality at night.

 

It is illegal to take pictures of government buildings, military installations, and other public facilities, many of which are unmarked. Authorities could confiscate your photographic equipment, or fine, detain, or arrest you. Do not take photos of people without their permission. For more information, review OSAC’s report, Picture This: Dos and Don’ts for Photography.

 

Transportation-Safety Situation

 

For more information, review OSAC’s report, Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

 

Road Safety and Road Conditions

 

Cameroon’s road networks (paved and unpaved) are poorly maintained and unsafe even in major cities. During the rainy season, many roads are barely passable, even with four-wheel drive vehicles. Livestock and pedestrians create constant road hazards, especially at night. There are few road and traffic signs. Roadways are often unlighted, making travel dangerous; there are few streetlights, even in major cities.

 

Drivers frequently disregard road safety rules. Authorities enforce speed limits minimally, with the exception of the major routes between Yaoundé, Douala, and Bamenda. Speed traps and checkpoints on highways catch unsuspecting motorists and result in fines of approximately US $50. The maximum national speed limit is 110 km/hour. Very serious, often fatal speed-related accidents are common on the major highways. Drive defensively and be alert to the possibility of passing vehicles coming from the opposite direction.

 

Vehicles are generally in poor maintenance, and mechanisms or requirements to inspect vehicles for roadworthiness are unevenly enforced. In 2013, the government passed a law requiring that a basic safety kit should be in all vehicles; roadside checkpoints will stop and conduct vehicle inspections for these items. However, untrained, government-backed private safety associations staff these checkpoints, and in doing so, create road traffic and hazards by stopping vehicles at unsafe locations along major highways For more information on self-driving, review OSAC’s Reports on Driving Overseas: Best Practices and Road Safety in Africa.

 

Cameroon has experienced a resurgence in road banditry in the Adamawa, East, Far North, North, Northwest, and Southwest regions. Road bandits (coupeurs de route) have targeted public buses and have resorted to violence to control passengers. Separatist-related attacks on public transportation and infrastructure have also taken place since 2018 in the Anglophone regions, including blocking of roads, destruction of bridges, stopping of vehicles, and even violence against motorists; at least one bus driver was murdered. Separatists and Cameroonian security forces heavily contest authority over major transit arteries, increasing risk of wrong place/wrong time violence to road travelers.

 

Public Transportation Conditions

 

Avoid all travel by public transportation, and hire private transport from a reliable source. Using public transportation is dangerous; vehicles do not meet Western safety standards and are poorly maintained and often overcrowded. Minibuses, buses, trains, and ferries are in poor mechanical condition and often fill well beyond their intended capacity. Make sure any car you hire has adequate insurance, preferably by written confirmation from the insurance company (rather than the car hire firm). If you are hiring a driver and car, make sure you are not liable for any accident or damage.

 

Bus accidents are frequent and result in thousands of fatalities every year. Buses are always overcrowded and often poorly maintained, and are driven in an unsafe manner at dangerous speeds.

 

Trains are also unsafe; the most recent major train derailment occurred in October 2016. The accident killed 70 passengers and injured more than 500 others.

 

Aviation/Airport Conditions

 

Cameroon has experienced three major air transport-related accidents in the past two decades. Temporary airport closures have occurred due to poor illumination and/or lack of electricity. The state-owned airline, Camair-Co, has had a number of safety incidents in the past year, including a tailstrike at Bafoussam Airport (BFX) in March 2019 and a forced landing in Garoua (GOU) in April 2019. Both mishaps involved Camair-Co’s Chinese-built Xian MA-60 aircraft. The U.S. Embassy recommends avoiding flights to Cameroon that transit Bangui M’Poko Airport (BGF) in CAR due to potential unrest in Bangui.

 

Maritime Security

 

Piracy emanating from Nigeria presents an ongoing challenge for regional maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea (GoG). The majority of GoG piracy events in 2018 occurred in or near Nigerian waters; however, dozens of incidents occurred in international waters or off the coasts of other GoG countries, including Cameroon. Vessels reported boardings, armed robberies, and crew kidnappings near Douala – Cameroon’s main port – and Tiko in 2018. Pirates have targeted foreign – and particularly Western – personnel for kidnapping for ransom, likely due to kidnappers’ perceptions that they can exact higher ransoms for their release. In such cases, they have transferred victims to other vessels or even taken them ashore to hideouts; Nigerian pirates are generally involved in such events.

 

Terrorism Threat

 

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

 

There is moderate risk from terrorism in Yaoundé. Two Nigeria-based terrorist groups operate in the North and Far North regions of Cameroon: Boko Haram and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham in West Africa (ISIS-WA). ISIS-WA, which initially emerged as a splinter group from Boko Haram, is an ISIS-recognized regional affiliate; it has become increasingly active in northeastern Nigeria and neighboring areas of Lake Chad Basin countries over the last year. Since 2015, there have been over 100 documented and reported detonations of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) along roadways, in villages, and in local markets in Cameroon by Nigeria-based terrorist groups. Kidnappings of Cameroonian nationals by terrorist groups and suicide bombing attacks have also occurred in the North and Far North regions. Boko Haram and ISIS-WA each likely aspire to target Westerners for kidnapping and attack.

 

Anti-U.S./Anti-Western Sentiment

 

There have been no reports of any widespread anti-U.S. or anti-Western incidents or sentiment since 2015. However, the potential for lone wolf attacks motivated by anti-Western or anti-U.S. sentiment remains.

 

In 2016, a Cameroonian male approached the U.S. Embassy and requested to speak with the Ambassador. The individual became agitated when told that the Ambassador was not available and brandished a long knife, stating that he was there to kill Americans. Ultimately, local Gendarmes resolved the situation, with no injury to any Embassy personnel.

 

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

 

Civil Unrest

 

There is considerable risk from political violence in Yaoundé. Demonstrations, ranging from workers strikes to political rallies and protests, are common in many major cities in Cameroon, including Yaoundé. Following the 2018 Presidential elections, defeated opposition parties have occasionally called for demonstrations. The government usually bans these demonstrations and quickly arrests those attempting to assemble. A large-scale protest in Douala led to police-involved non-lethal shooting of members of the opposition leadership with rubber projectiles. Ongoing political disputes, including the government’s detention of senior opposition leaders, increase the potential for demonstrations. Avoid large gatherings; even peaceful demonstrations can escalate to violence.

 

For the past several years, there has been a political crisis in the Northwest and Southwest Regions because of years of feelings of marginalization by Anglophone Cameroonians. In 2016, the area experienced widespread civil unrest that included lawyers and teachers staging walkouts and work stoppages that shuttered schools for several weeks. Owners of stores and markets staged organized closures of storefronts, disrupting services. Elements of those expressing discontent subsequently began calling for secession from Cameroon.

 

In the ensuing years, armed separatists have carried out attacks on Cameroonian government security forces and government officials, resulting in the death of over a dozen police and gendarmes and multiple kidnappings of Cameroonian officials. Some of these attacks have involved the use of small-scale, makeshift bombs. Suspected separatist militants have also demanded that schools remain shuttered and have allegedly attacked educational buildings that have reopened.

 

In 2018 and 2019, the conflict increased in intensity and took on an added dimension of violence, with the razing of villages, hospitals, and capital infrastructure, as well as attacks on civilians by both parties to the conflict

 

Post-specific Concerns

 

Critical Infrastructure

 

There is a serious lack of infrastructure in most of the country, even in major cities. Power grids are unreliable, power surges and wide-scale blackouts are common. Many neighborhoods lack running or potable water.

 

There is a noticeable lack of Western-branded, service industry-oriented businesses. In the major cities, only a handful of hotels meet Western standards.

 

The Government of Cameroon routinely restricts access to internet and mobile communications during periods of civil unrest and in advance of major anniversaries or political events. Affected communication methods include SMS, image sharing, and social media access. Restrictions normally affect localized areas, including in major cities. Due to Cameroon’s limited telecommunications infrastructure, the quality of voice calls may degrade during communications restrictions, and increased user volume may overwhelm capacity. Travelers should ensure they have redundant communications systems and sufficient training to use these systems.

 

Personal Identity Concerns

 

Consensual same-sex sexual activity is illegal and punishable by a prison sentence of six months to five years and a fine ranging from 20,000 to 200,000 CFA francs ($35-$353). Cameroon’s rate of enforcement of laws targeting the LGBTI community is among the highest in the world. Over the past few years, authorities have brought charges against scores of LGBTI people under the Criminal Code. Cameroonian society includes a strongly homophobic current; not only does the public and media condemn homosexuality, but religious figures also strongly oppose it. The misconception that members of the LGBTI community do not hold legal rights because homosexuality is against the law is prevalent, and has prompted police officers and civilians to stigmatize, harass, and oppress LGBTI people. Police and civilians may extort money from presumed LGBTI individuals with the threat of exposure or arrest. Suspected members of the LGBTI community have received anonymous threats by phone, text, and email.

 

Persons with disabilities face limited access to transportation, public buildings, hotels, and communication accommodations. There are few sidewalks and no curb cuts, and most buildings lack elevators.

 

Kidnapping Threat

 

Kidnapping and kidnapping-for-ransom are serious security concerns, especially in the Northwest and Southwest Regions, as well as areas bordering northern Nigeria and CAR. Boko Haram and ISIS-WA have several years of history engaging in this tactic to raise money for their causes. Criminal elements may also engage in this activity for financial gain. Separatist militants and criminals taking advantage of the conflict in Northwest and Southwest regions have kidnapped Cameroonian government officials, local security force members, and foreigners. Kidnappers –criminal or separatist in nature – frequently employ brutal force against victims, and have increasingly targeted locals of all backgrounds. For more information, review OSAC’s report, Kidnapping: The Basics.

 

Police Response

 

Local law enforcement and security personnel struggle to deter and respond to criminal activities. Police response is often delayed and non-existent in some areas; perpetrators of crimes are rarely caught. Police and security forces lack training and equipment. In some cases, police and security force members have colluded with criminal elements and/or perpetrated criminal acts. Checkpoints and roadblocks often serve as a venue for police, military forces, and gendarmes to extort bribes from travelers.

 

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

 

U.S. citizens encountering difficulties should contact local authorities and the U.S. Embassy. Any U.S. citizens detained by local authorities should remain calm, be non-confrontational, and request to contact the U.S. Embassy immediately. You may need to repeat these requests.

 

The Government of Cameroon does not recognize the dual citizenship of Cameroonian nationals, even if they hold U.S. passports. As a result, authorities have detained dual Cameroonian nationals for prolonged periods, and the Embassy’s Consular Affairs Section has encountered difficulties in accessing dual U.S.-Cameroonian nationals in custody. The expression of anti-government sentiment has led to the detention of dual Cameroonian nationals.

 

Crime Victim Assistance

 

Embassy Yaoundé switchboard: +237 22220-1500

American Citizen Services: Ext. 4341

 

Police: Dial 17 on landlines or 117 on cell phones

Fire: Dial 18 on landlines or 118 on cell phones

 

Medical Emergencies

 

Medical and life safety services are limited in Cameroon. Medical facilities in Cameroon do not approach the U.S. standard. Services may be nonexistent in many rural areas. A lack of trained specialists, outdated diagnostic equipment, poor sanitation, and medications in short supply hamper emergency care and hospitalization. These issues are more severe in rural areas. Non-French speakers will face language barriers at health facilities in many parts of the country.

 

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

 

For medical assistance, refer to the Embassy’s Medical Assistance page.

 

Available Air Ambulance Services

 

·         Cameroon Assistance Sanitaire, Douala Tel: +237 23342-4891, +237 23342-7037 Fax: +237 23342-0079. Contact: Mr. Soussie + 237 23330-9020

·         Missionary Medevac Helicopter in Bamenda (Northwest Region) Tel: + 237 23336-1285

·         SOS Assistance SA of Geneva Tel: +41 22 785-6464

·         Telex medical evacuation from Cameroon to Europe Tel: + 41 22 785-6424

 

Insurance Guidance

 

Ensure your health insurance covers medical evacuation (medevac) via air ambulance.

 

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

 

The following diseases are prevalent: Malaria, Schistosomiasis, Cholera, Dengue, Yellow fever, Meningococcal meningitis, Polio, Tuberculosis, and HIV. Malaria is endemic; travelers should consult their physician for anti-malaria medication prior to travel.

 

All travelers must have up-to-date immunizations and a yellow fever vaccination in their shot record. Enforcement takes places prior to boarding outbound flights, as well as prior to passing through immigration on inbound flights. Travelers without documented immunization may receive a mandatory vaccine at the airport.

 

Water-borne illnesses are also a concern. For more information, refer to OSAC’s report, I’m Drinking What in My Water?

 

The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Cameroon.

 

OSAC Country Council Information

 

The Douala Country Council meets quarterly. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s Africa team with any questions.

 

U.S. Embassy Location & Contact Information

 

Embassy Address and Hours of Operation

 

Avenue Rosa Parks (in the Mbankolo Quartier, adjacent to the Mount Febe Golf Club), Yaoundé

 

Normal Business Hours: Monday-Thursday 0730-1700; Friday 0730-1230

 

Embassy Contact Numbers

 

Embassy Yaoundé switchboard: +237 22220-1500

Marine Post 1: Ext. 4040

Website: https://cm.usembassy.gov/

 

Embassy Guidance

 

All U.S. citizens living in or traveling to Cameroon should enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive security messages and make it easier to locate you in an emergency.

 

Additional Resource: Cameroon Country Information Sheet

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