Cameroonian asylum seekers facing deportation back to their country said they were forced by U.S. immigration to sign their deportation papers, amid complaints by Human rights advocates that deportations have increased in recent weeks.
The men, eight in all, outlined their experiences in a complaint filed by immigrant advocate groups including the Southern Poverty Law Center with the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, the Associated Press reported.
A man identified in the complaint as C.A., who is terrified to go back to Cameroon in the midst of reports of human rights abuses, said U.S. immigration officers grabbed him, forced him on the ground, and pepper-sprayed his eyes. “They handcuffed me.”
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“I was crying, ‘I need to talk to my attorney,’ and I said, ‘They are going to kill me.'”
Just like other Cameroonian asylum seekers, C.A. said his fingerprint was forced onto documents needed for his deportation back to Cameroon. “They forcefully opened my palm. Some of my fingers were broken. They forced my fingerprint on to the paper.”
C.A. and many other Cameroonian migrants had been in detention in Mississippi before they were all transferred to Prairieland Detention Center in Alvarado, Texas, where they joined hundreds of other asylum seekers for a chartered flight back to their home countries.
On October 13, a plane flew out of Fort Worth Alliance Airport in Texas carrying 60 Cameroonian and 28 Congolese asylum seekers. Immigration rights group Witness at the Border, which tracked the plane, said it stopped in Senegal, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and then Kenya before flying back to Texas, The Guardian reported.
C.A. and one other Cameroonian were taken off the October 13 flight at the last moment after human rights advocates intervened. But ICE officials have said they are still not saved from being deported.
The Cameroonian deportees on the October 13 flight were however detained for questioning on arrival in Douala, according to The Guardian report. Those who were released after their families paid bribes have gone into hiding.
AP reports that Cameroonians started arriving at the U.S. border with Mexico in large numbers last year. The current challenges in Cameroon date back to pre-independence when the country was formed by combining two territories that were colonized by the British with the bigger territory being colonized by the French. But ever since the two territories became one after independence in 1961, the English speaking people of Southern Cameroonians have been complaining that they are politically and economically disadvantaged.
Many of the Cameroonian asylum-seekers are English speaking people of Southern Cameroon, who are escaping the violence and killings by security forces of the French-speaking government who are trying to get rid of English-speaking separatists.
It is not clear why the U.S. is seeking to send home many of these Cameroonian asylum seekers and other Black immigrants but human rights advocates believe the move could be due to the impending elections.
“In late September, early October of this year, we began to receive calls on our hotline from Cameroonian and Congolese immigrants detained in Ice prisons across the country. And they were being subjected to threats of deportation, often accompanied by physical abuse,” Christina Fialho, executive director of an advocacy group, Freedom for Immigrants (FFI), was quoted by The Guardian.
“The reality is that Ice operates in the shadows. They thrive in secrecy,” Fialho said. “We know that the US government is deporting key witnesses in an effort to silence survivors and absolve Ice of legal liability.”