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Nigerian refugee girls join AFCON celebrations in Cameroon

Players from the women's football team in the Minawao refugee camp attend an Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) game.   -  
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Minawao Refugee Camp in northern Cameroon is home to thousands of Nigerian refugees who have fled war in their home country. In the heart of this camp, a group of girls has formed an all-female football team.

Words are not enough to describe the joy in the eyes of Nigerian refugee girls as they reminisce about their latest experience. Friday, January 14 was a great day in Minawao, northern Cameroon. In their refugee camp, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Confederation of African Football organized a once-in-a lifetime treat for the girls.

The all-female team ranging in age from 15 to 20 attended one of Nigeria's match in the Africa Cup of Nations. Lucy Bitrus was one them. With teammates, she boarded a bus on Friday for the 200-kilometre trip and spent the night in a hotel before heading to the stadium in Garoua on Saturday. It was the very first time they'd left the camp since arriving - for some - 7 years ago.

"Since the time that they informed us that we were going to support our team, Nigeria, we were very happy, Lucy recalls. As soon as we entered the car and started moving, we were smiling. And then they (Nigeria) won, and we were very happy with them. We are wishing they bring the cup to Nigeria."

Camp heroines

Attending this one Africa Cup of Nations fixture was magical for the girls. So, when they returned to the Minawao camp, they were greeted as heroines by hundreds of children who had seen them on television. If they were on the terraces that day, they are more a of the on-the-pitch type. At the camp, an expanse of compacted earth with blue-coloured goals at either end serves as a pitch for the players.

Upon their arrival as they fled with family from Nigeria's Boko Haram insurgent, the girls took up football and formed a team. They proceeded to play with equipment they received then with whatever came at hand. Christine hopes new equipment will soon be provided. "Sometimes when we are playing, we don't have shoes for playing. That is a problem. Sometimes we have pain in our legs, sometimes we don't have jerseys, we just go and play with our clothes like that, so if it is possible, we need shoes and jerseys."

The camp where the girls live opened in July 2013 at the height of the Boko Haram insurgency. At first, the children received proper equipment. But now that the crisis seems to be abating in Nigeria, "the big donors are starting to forget" about the refugees, according to Luka Isaac, the representative of the Minawao refugees who spoke with the AFP. If they received help, the girls could pursue their dreams.

Today the camp houses some 70,000 people. It resembles a little city, with a hospital, several schools, a dispensary and even a market some 50 kilometres away. All of its inhabitants, starting with the girls, will closely follow the Super Eagles as they advance in the AFCON round of 16.

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