Despite growing academic interest in refugees and international humanitarian responses, the influx of refugees from the Central African Republic into eastern Cameroon, ongoing since 2005, has received little attention in scholarship or even in popular media. Though we know much about what can go wrong in large-scale, politicized refugee crises, less is known about how the refugee response works in more “everyday” refugee situations to effectively address the needs of refugees and their host communities. Drawing on ethnographic research conducted among humanitarian NGOs during a semester in Cameroon, I examine the implications for the host country of the routinized response to a relatively straightforward refugee crisis. I argue that the situation in eastern Cameroon contributes much to our understanding of how the international community can better assist refugees around the world.

My analysis of this response has yielded three key insights. First, a professionalized international refugee regime has responded using best practices built on experience, which suggests a cultural shift toward evidence-based approaches to humanitarian interventions. Second, integration of refugees into local communities has benefits that extend beyond the humanitarian space in which refugee services are administered. These benefits impact Cameroon’s processes of nation-building. Third, this nation-building reinforces Cameroon’s position as a state within the international community, fitting it more firmly into what scholar Liisa Malkki calls the “national order of things.”



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