There’s an unsettling tension in San Diego following the death of a 37-year-old Cameroonian man in the custody of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
A coalition of black immigration rights organization is demanding an explanation into the circumstances leading to the man’s death.
The Cameroon American Council (CAC), on Monday, held a vigil to mourn the death of the man, who has been identified as Nebane Abienwi.
Abienwi, who was seeking asylum in the U.S. following the disturbances in Cameroon, died Tuesday after being treated for a brain hemorrhage at Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center in the custody of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The ICE said Abienwi had been in detention at the Otay Mesa Detention Center.
Describing the death of Abienwi as “devastating”, the black immigrant rights organization condemned the use of detention centres to “imprison our people.” It also demanded more information on the circumstances in which Abienwi died.
“We demand to know the circumstances under which Nebane lost his life. Black immigrants, in particular, report horrific experiences of anti-Blackness, abuse, and harassment while in detention,” the organization said in a statement on October 3.
“The detention of Nebane was outrageous and without his detention would have been avoided. The only way future deaths can be prevented is by closing down OMDC in San Diego and every facility that detains immigrants. Detention is inhumane, unsafe, unhealthy, and criminal,” it added.
The OMDC is an immigrant prison that is notorious for human rights violations and abuse.
Many Black migrants like Abienwi travel thousands of miles to the U.S. to escape persecution and seek refuge.
Instead of releasing immigrants and adhering to international human rights, ICE is further traumatizing asylum seekers, said the organisation.
“We are deeply troubled that on the very first day of ICE’s fiscal year, Nebane’s death begins the death count of detained immigrants,” the organization said.
Meanwhile, the ICE has said that it is “firmly committed to the health and welfare of all those in its custody and is undertaking a comprehensive agency-wide review of this incident, as it does in all such cases.”
The Black immigrant rights organizations include the Cameroon American Council, the Partnership for the Advancement of New Americans, the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, the Black LGBTQIA+ Migrant Project, the Black Immigrant Collective, the African Public Affairs Committee and others.
Abienwi applied for admission into the United States on September 5 at the San Ysidro Port of Entry.
The ICE, in a news release, said Abienwi did not have “proper entry documents” when he crossed through the port of entry.
The coalition, however, said he should not have been detained in the first place.
“No one should be locked up for seeking safety and wanting a better life,” the alliance said. “Black immigrants, in particular, report horrific experiences of anti-blackness, abuse, and harassment while in detention,” the group also said.
Conflict has erupted in the English-speaking regions of Cameroon between the government and protesters over discrimination against farmers and English speakers.
In June 2018, Amnesty International reported that armed separatists have killed military personnel, burned down schools and attacked teachers, while security forces have destroyed villages, tortured children and fired on crowds of protesters.
“People in Cameroon’s Anglophone regions are in the grip of a deadly cycle of violence. Security forces have indiscriminately killed, arrested and tortured people during military operations which have also displaced thousands of civilians,” said Samira Daoud, Amnesty International’s West and Central Africa deputy regional director for campaigns.
The number of Cameroonians applying for asylum to the U.S. has increased from about 600 in 2012 to more than 1,300 in 2016, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees per latest data.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution this summer calling on the government of Cameroon and the separatist groups “to respect the human rights of all Cameroonian citizens, to end all violence, and to pursue an inclusive dialogue to resolve the conflict in the Northwest and Southwest regions.”
The resolution has not yet been passed by the Senate.