Human rights

HRW Slams Cameroon, US Gov’ts For Violating Asylum Seekers’ Rights

Anti-deportation protesters in the US protesting deportation of Cameroonians

By Andrew Nsoseka, JADE

Human Rights Watch, HRW, in its recent report, has exposed the inhumane treatment meted on Cameroonian asylum seekers by the United States immigration service and Cameroonian Governments, both of which have been slammed for committing “serious” human rights abuses.

In the report released on February 10, HRW says the US Government used a “discriminatory border expulsion policy” to bar Cameroonian asylum seekers from entering the country in 2020, and it used COVID-19 as a pretext.

The report stated that the US also detained Cameroonian asylum seekers in immigration camps for months or even years before deporting about 190 of them since 2019.

It reveals that the US Government violated international law governing refugees when it imprisoned and deported these asylum seekers back into the country, where many of them have been arrested, detained and abused by local authorities.

The US Government, under former President Donald Trump, deported about 80 to 90 Cameroonians in October and November 2020 alone, HRW said, and President Joe Biden’s government also sent more people home in 2021.

“Human Rights Watch research shows that US authorities not only sent Cameroonians back to harm, but also subjected them to serious human rights violations in US immigration detention, failed to fairly adjudicate many of their cases, and failed to protect confidential asylum documents, which were confiscated by their government. For these reasons, US deportations of Cameroonian asylum seekers violated US obligations under international human rights and refugee law,” the release partly reads.

“By returning Cameroonians to face persecution, torture, and other serious harm, the US violated the principle of non-refoulment, the foundation of international refugee law. Given the documented harm and ongoing risks the deportees face, the US government should urgently offer Cameroonian asylum seekers deported in 2020 and 2021 the opportunity to return via humanitarian parole, the mechanism that allows people to enter the US temporarily on humanitarian grounds. US Citizenship and Immigration Services should permit them to re-apply for asylum through the affirmative process,” HRW states.

While being deported to Cameroon, HRW says asylum seekers were handcuffed or chained. They were then taken to detention facilities, on arrival, where many of them told HRW they were abused and tortured by the police and gendarmes under the government’s supervision, for “spoiling the name of the country. 

“I was arrested and detained [by gendarmes]. I was raped. I was well [seriously] beaten, I was tortured, I lived mostly on bread. They said we are the people that have gone out and spoiled the name of the country… so I have to pay for it dearly,” a deported asylum seeker named Esther (pseudo name) recounted her ordeal to Human Rights Watch in an interview.

US Human Rights Records Stained

The deportation of Cameroonian asylum seekers tarnishes America’s superpower reputation as a guarantor of human rights and freedoms.

Deported asylum seekers have said they were disappointed to find out that the US does not protect the vulnerable, as it prides itself on the international scene.

HRW says the “hopeful belief” in the US as a land of freedom has been “shattered for scores of Cameroonians who spent months or years in abusive US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention, only to be deported.”

According to deported asylum seeker, Esther, who spoke to Human Rights Watch, “The human rights in America that I always looked up to, now I don’t believe these human rights exist, because of the way that we’ve been treated and sent back to our country, where we are going through pain.”

Despite advocacy and protests of activists, lawyers, and US Congress members, the US administration under President Joe Biden went on to deport several people to Cameroon in October 2021, according to Human Rights Watch.

Most of these deportees are coming from the English-speaking regions of Cameroon, where violence and threats from both state and non-state actors have caused many of them to seek safety abroad.

Cameroon Gov’t On The Frontline Of Abuses

HRW’s research exposed several human rights atrocities the Government of Cameroon has been unleashing on deportees when they return to the country.

HRW says, between 2019 and 2021, Cameroonian authorities have subjected returned deportees and their family members to “serious human rights violations including rape, torture and other physical abuse, arbitrary arrest and detention, inhuman and degrading treatment in detention, extortion, and threats.”

These abuses are perpetrators by the police, gendarmes, and military personnel, among other officials and state agents, says HRW.

In the English-speaking regions, HRW says separatist fighters are reported to have beaten at least one deported person and threatened the relatives of others.

“Our research indicates government forces detained or imprisoned at least 39 deported people after the return. This includes 19 people we interviewed who were detained in jails, prisons, military camps, or other detention facilities, both legal and illegal, for periods ranging from days to months,” the Human Rights Watch report states.

It furthers: “One man was detained twice. Many were held without due process or incommunicado, in some cases in circumstances that may constitute enforced disappearances. Nearly all described squalid detention conditions with little to no food, medical care, sanitation, or protection from Covid-19. Credible sources indicated authorities detained at least 20 other deported people as well, while additional unconfirmed reports suggest the total may be higher.”

HRW also reports 13 cases of torture and abuse, including three cases of deported women who were sexually abused by government soldiers after they were arrested.

Worse Treatment For Anglophone Deportees

Although Cameroonian officers including the police, the gendarme and the army imprisoned and abused Francophone Cameroonian deportees as well, HRW says Anglophone asylum.

In some cases cited in the HRW report, soldiers harmed and killed family members of deported asylum seekers in the Northwest and Southwest regions.

“In seven cases we documented, state agents beat, abducted, detained, harassed, and in one case reportedly killed, relatives in connection with deportees’ returns,” HRW states.

“In the North-West region, allegedly while searching for Esther, soldiers opened fire and killed her 35-year-old sister. In the South-West region, while searching for George, five soldiers attacked his 60-year-old mother,” HRW reports.

“They beat her with a military belt…and they threatened her with guns… She fell crying, so then they kicked her with their military shoes, and they were hitting her with sticks… They broke her bones,” George told HRW.

HRW says the US needs to first stop the deportation of Cameroonians and grant Cameroonian asylum seekers a “Temporary Protected Status (TPS)” that permits them to reside in the country so long as their safety in Cameroon remains unguaranteed.

Cameroon Authorities Mute On Allegations

The Post contacted Cameroon’s Ministry of communication to get its side of the story, but so far, is still to get feedback. A reply message, seemingly an auto message simply said “We will get back to you quickly”. A similar message was sent to the military spokesman, Navy Captain Cyrille Atonfack but we got no response from his office.

The treatment meted out on the rejected Cameroonian asylum seekers violated several of their human rights. In its article 5, the Universal Declaration Of Human Rights mandates that “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” Unfortunately, the returned asylum seekers were reportedly tortured.   

Article 14 (1) of the Declaration says “Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.” But this was denied the asylum seekers were returned to Cameroon where they were running from. Matters were made worse for some whose asylum claims were released to the government, resulting in the torture they received.  

At the care of US immigration services, the asylum seekers were reportedly kept in conditions that were not good for their health.  Article 25 (1) of the Declaration says everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family…, but those detained were not afforded this right.

The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in its Article 3 (1) says “No State Party shall expel, return (“refouler”) or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture. US immigration officials failed to respect this clause and even despite several warnings, deported the Cameroonian asylum seekers who are now victims of torture, rape, incommunicado detentions, and persecution because they were returned to what they were running away from.

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