Cameroonian asylum-seekers who were deported by the United States between 2019 and Jan. 2021 faced abuses ranging from arbitrary arrest, extortion, and rape following their arrival to Cameroon, human rights experts said in a new report. Human Rights Watch says that of the 41 deported Cameroonian asylum-seekers interviewed by the organization, around half reported experiencing or witnesses abuses even before being expelled, while in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody.
“Many deported people also described other abusive treatment during ICE flights,” the report said. “Some of the documented cases may constitute cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, prohibited by the Convention Against Torture.”
“Between 2019 and 2021, Cameroonian police, gendarmes, military personnel, and other officials detained or imprisoned at least 39 people deported from the U.S.,” the human rights organization said in a release. “Authorities detained many without due process or in inhumane conditions, for periods ranging from days to months. Some were held incommunicado.”
One woman detained by the military following her Oct. 2020 deportation described nearly daily beatings. “They hit me all over my body,” she said. “They said that I’ve destroyed the image of Cameroon ... so I had to pay for it.” One man said that the military also assaulted him around that same time. “Paul” told researchers that they knew of his deportation. “They said, ‘You were deported from America?... You are the ones sponsoring the Amba [separatist] fighters.’”
“Nearly all of the deported people interviewed had fled Cameroon between 2017 and 2020 for reasons linked to the crisis in the Anglophone regions,” Human Rights Watch said. The organization said asylum-seekers had credible claims, “but due process concerns, fact-finding inaccuracies, and other issues contributed to unfair asylum decisions.” That included having to go before U.S. immigration judges with abysmal denial rates.
”Among the 41 deported Cameroonians we interviewed, over half (23) were assigned immigration judges with 90 to 99.5 percent asylum denial rates,” the report said. “Michael” told researchers that when a Department of Homeland Security attorney accused him of being a liar, “the judge did not intervene.” Another Cameroonian person who was denied asylum said the judge is the one who accused them of being a liar. “One time he asked me the same question over and over, and said I was lying.”
“The Biden administration took the positive step of canceling a Feb. 2021 deportation flight to Cameroon,” Human Rights Watch said. “However, it deported several Cameroonians in October 2021 and has failed to designate Temporary Protected Status for Cameroon, despite conditions making return unsafe.” Impacted Cameroonians and allies gathered for a press call following the report’s release last week to urge the Biden administration to issue temporary protections, and ensure redress for harms suffered.
“Marie” said she sought out her family following her deportation from the U.S. to Cameroon in Oct. 2020. But when security forces realized she’d been deported from the U.S., “they started abusing me … I am pleading to the American government to look into my asylum case because I still need assistance and protection. We need refuge so we can secure our lives.”
African asylum-seekers, including from Cameroon, had previously described in an Oct. 2021 civil rights complaint being subjected to a dehumanizing, full-body restraint while in ICE custody.
“According to the complaint, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents immobilized the men with The WRAP, applying it on top of five-point shackles, binding their legs together, and cinching them up at a 45-degree angle, in some cases for hours, which left them shrieking in pain,” a coalition statement said. One man, “Castillo,” said in the complaint that he was kept in the restraint for nine hours. “I couldn’t talk. I couldn’t eat. All I remember is the pain and the yelling of the officers.”
The complaint stated that “The WRAP” is authorized for use by ICE in very limited circumstances. “However, ICE is not using The WRAP in this manner,” and has restrained asylum-seekers at detention centers and on bus rides.
The Human Rights Watch report said that ICE further endangered deportees by failing to protect confidential documents that later fell into the hands of Cameroonian officials. Five said “that ICE or other officials had, prior to departure, either packed their bags for them or refused to allow them—despite pleas—to remove documents from their bags.” One said ICE directly handed information to Cameroonian authorities, “leading to his immediate arrest.” Experts said allegations that personal information was shared should be investigated:
“The US government utterly failed Cameroonians with credible asylum claims by sending them back to harm in the country they fled, as well as mistreating already traumatized people before and during deportation,” Human Rights Watch refugee and migrant rights researcher Lauren Seibert said. “The Cameroon and US governments need to remedy these abuses, and US authorities should provide opportunities for wrongly deported Cameroonians to return and reapply for asylum.” The full Human Rights Watch report is available here.
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