Updates from January 2021:
Boston Globe – “Grim stories from asylum seekers caught up in America’s cranked-up deportation machine”
Resolution 684 has passed. Full text from when it was first introduced in September – “Risch, Cardin Lead Colleagues in Condemning Violence in Anglophone Cameroon”
October 29, 2020
The International Human Rights Clinic at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law is alarmed by the recent deportation of over 100 Cameroonian refugees from the United States. Over the past few weeks, 200 asylum seekers, most of them from Cameroon, were transferred from several states to the Prairieland detention center in Dallas, Texas, where they were then deported on October 13 on a flight operated by Omni Air International. Many of the Cameroonian and Congolese immigrants had protested their detention and had spoken out about abuses in U.S. custody, including lack of COVID-19 prevention measures. ICE proceeded with the removals even after Chairman Thompson of the House Homeland Security Committee and Chairwoman Bass of the Congressional Black Caucus attempted to intervene. These deportations are a clear violation of the United States’ international legal obligations under international refugee and human rights law.
The Trump administration’s harmful immigration policies and actions have placed hundreds, if not thousands, of Cameroonians seeking refuge in the United States at risk. Violence in the Anglophone North West and South West regions of Cameroon began in 2016 when English-speaking lawyers, students, and teachers started protesting what they saw as their under-representation in, and cultural marginalization by, the central government. The government responded by forcefully repressing these protests, firing indiscriminately into crowds and arresting hundreds of protesters. Since then, government security forces and separatist militias have clashed over the independence of the Anglophone regions. Government security forces have committed numerous human rights abuses against Anglophone civilians, including killings, torching villages, and using torture and incommunicado detention. Armed separatists have also killed, tortured, and kidnapped dozens of civilians, including teachers, students, and government officials.
Violence in the regions has steadily worsened to the point where many Anglophones feel they have no choice but to leave; indeed, at least 285 civilians have been killed, and tens of thousands more have been displaced in the last few months alone. The overall numbers are even more staggering—nearly 700,000 people have been displaced, and over 60,000 have had to flee into Nigeria, with 3.9 million currently in need of humanitarian support. “Given the current conditions in the country, it is extremely likely that anyone who is returned to Cameroon will face a high risk of being detained, beaten, disappeared, tortured, or possibly even killed,” said Adotei Akwei, Amnesty international USA’s deputy director of Advocacy and Government Relations.
Sadly, for many refugees who fled death or imprisonment in Cameroon, their time in U.S. detention has not been much better. Over the last year, dozens of Cameroonians in ICE custody have reported being subjected to retaliatory solitary confinement, as well as violent repression at the hands of ICE agents and guards through the use of pepper spray and rubber bullets. Just three weeks ago, Freedom for Immigrants, Louisiana Advocates for Immigrants in Detention, Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Cameroonian American Council (CAC), Detention Watch Network (DWN), Natchez Network, Haitian Bridge Alliance, and Families for Freedom filed an 11 page civil rights complaint with the Department for Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) and DHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) condemning ICE for its use of force. Beatings, breaking fingers, choking, and pepper spraying detainees who refused to sign their deportation papers are among the most egregious acts of violence detailed by Cameroonian detainees in the report.
Even worse, COVID-19 has now spread throughout U.S. detention facilities, where detainees are continually held in unsanitary, even deadly, conditions. Thousands of people have tested positive for COVID-19 in detention, and at least 11 countries have confirmed receiving COVID-positive deported people. Yet, the U.S. government continues to transfer people between facilities and to deport them to other countries despite the clear public and global health risks.
By deporting Cameroonian asylum seekers in this manner to a country where they are under threat of persecution, torture, or other serious harms, the United States has failed to meet its obligations under international refugee and human rights law. For these reasons,we call on the Trump administration to halt its harmful deportations of asylum seekers, and to investigate the reports of abuse in ICE custody immediately. We also call on ICE to release asylum-seekers from immigration detention while they await their immigration proceedings for the benefit of public health. Finally, we call on Omni Air International to suspend any further cooperation with ICE.