US Members of Congress Urge Halt to Deportations to Cameroon, Uphold Country’s Stance on Cameroon, Lawyers Teargassed in Douala Court
The United States’ Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) recently scheduled a flight to deport scores of Cameroonian asylum seekers on November 10. The move came after the first group of deportees sent back to Cameroon last month knew mixed fortunes since their arrival. Family members have reported that they were yet to be told the whereabouts of their relatives.
Some Members of Congress penned a similar correspondence on the eve of the last deportations to Cameroon on October 13, 2020, but ICE still went ahead and sent the asylum seekers home. This time, however, the Congressmen and Women involved addressed their concerns directly to the US Assistant Secretary of State at the Bureau of African Affairs, Hon., Tibor Nagy.
“The Department of State has been clear about the rising violence and instability in Cameroon. Just this past Friday, November 6, the United States Embassy in Yaoundé condemned the continued escalation of attacks on civilians in the Northwest and Southwest regions in the country, declaring that the attacks showed absolute disregard for the social fabric of communities. You also provided a rebuke of the brutality and pledged to stand against the violence in the continued quest for peace,” the correspondence reads in part.
The US Representatives, among them Karen Bass, Chairperson of the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations at the House Foreign Affairs Committee, get even more pointed when they write: “The Department of State’s own 2019 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices cited extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances by security forces, torture, and arbitrary detention by security forces and non-state armed groups in its review of Cameroon. It also called attention to harsh and life-threatening prison conditions and significant problems with the independence of the judiciary”.
Family members of those deported on October 13, 2020, said the few who were allowed to go home, only left after paying huge sums of money in bribes to the security forces and, because they happened to know high-ups in the country’s administration. A source within the Cameroon Secret Service, speaking on conditions of anonymity, revealed that lots of those deported were held in private detention centres across the country in unacceptable conditions and undergoing torture.
A senior official of the Cameroon Immigration Service who spoke to Timescape Magazine on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the press on the matter, stated that documents received from ICE in the US, mainly affidavits handed in by the asylum seekers to support their cases, showed that the concerned “tarnished the image of Cameroon abroad, which is a crime that deserves maximum punishment”.
The treatment meted out to the deportees of October 13 and the role played in this by various stakeholders did not escape the attention of the US lawmakers.
“Allowing deportations to continue would support the false depiction by Cameroon that the country poses no risks to deportees and that reports of human rights abuses are overblown. Indeed, Cameroon’s state-sponsored Cameroon Radio Television (CRTV) put a “positive spin” on the return of people from the U.S., claiming they would help rebuild the country. This calculated misrepresentation decreases the incentive for the Biya administration to come to the negotiating table, and severely undermines our policy imperatives and standing in the region,” they noted.
(Cameroon Security forces spraying teargas on lawyers inside a courtroom in Douala)
Conscious of the attitude of the State Department to the situation of Cameroonian asylum seekers earmarked for deportation in the past, the lawmakers concluded their correspondence by stating: “We, therefore, ask that you use every tool at your disposal as the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs to stop the November 10 deportation flight and all future deportations to Cameroon. If you decide not to cancel that flight, and future flights, please notify us and provide the basis for those decisions as soon as possible”.
Lawyers in Douala protesting the violation of judicial procedures before the arrival of security forces
While ICE’s determination to deport Cameroonians back home came under scrutiny in the United States, Police and Gendarmes in the country’s economic capital, Douala unleashed excessive force against lawyers in a court there, using teargas right inside a courtroom to disperse them. The lawyers were protesting a violation of procedures by the presiding magistrate, another sign that the rule of law in Cameroon is quasi nonexistent.