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A wave of US deportations has left the fate of African asylum seekers in the balance

REUTERS/Jose Torres
A migrant from Cameroon holds his baby while trying to enter the Siglo XXI immigrant detention center to request humanitarian visas, issued by the Mexican government, to cross the country towards the United States, in Tapachula, Mexico June 27, 2019.
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A recent spate of deportations of African asylum seekers from the US in the last weeks of the Trump administration has attracted widespread condemnation from human rights advocates.

The chair of the US House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Africa, congresswoman Karen Bass, and her colleagues, have described the move as “unjust deportation” and insist the deportations should be halted until the new administration of president-elect Joe Biden is sworn in and able to carefully re-examine their cases.

However, the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency appears to be keen to carry on with the deportations.

In the midst of this, Cameroon asylum seekers find themselves at the centerstage. An Africa-bound flight on board 37 Cameroonian, six Angolan, and three Congolese asylum-seekers, was set to depart the US on Tuesday (Nov. 10). But ICE was yet to confirm this removal flight ahead of press time as it sticks to its policy of only commenting when the deportation plane has reached the designated country.

Deportations of African migrants have grown under president Trump, often at a higher rate than with migrants from elsewhere.

Last month, 57 asylum seekers who had been held in different detention facilities across the US were ferried back to Cameroon. Some said they were brutally forced to sign or append their fingerprints on their own deportation orders. Their dreams of seeking safety and a whole new life in the US were squashed. Back home, some were allowed to go while others were detained for “investigations”, according to a government statement which didn’t provide figures.

These series of deportations are now leaving uncertainty on the fate of Cameroon asylum seekers, both in the US and on home soil. For some of those seeking refugee status in the US, they are fleeing from a brutal government crackdown on separatists seeking to establish an English-speaking country they call “Ambazonia”, from a French-dominated Cameroon.

The  long drawn-out, neglected armed conflict which erupted in 2016 as low-level protests have been marked by grave human rights violations including extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances, arbitrary and unlawful detention, and torture.

Some have spent as much as $5,500 for transatlantic flights to South American countries with lower visa barriers and then from there tried to make their way northwards—trekking through deadly terrain and waters of South and Central America to reach the US and seek genuine refugee status. But some others have followed same path simply as economic migrants but also sought refugee status.

And since the US asylum system has often been characterized by bias and disparities, some genuine asylum seekers are sent back to their countries of persecution even when the US government acknowledges that “the government of Cameroon currently engages in gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.” The system seems to be tailored more on deciding whether an asylum seeker is deportable from the US or not.

Under the Trump administration the US ICE has tried to live up to president Donald Trump’s expectations of a more aggressive approach to tightening immigration in general and has focused on those seeking refugee status from different parts of the world.

Deportations of African migrants have grown under president Trump, often at a higher rate than with migrants from elsewhere and his administration has restricted travel and immigration from Nigeria, Sudan, Tanzania, Eritrea, Libya, and Somalia, in what activists have called an “African ban”.

Biden is widely expected to reverse some of the harsher immigration executive orders such as the Muslim ban, which impacted visitors and potential migrants from several African countries.

The government of Cameroon has not rebuked the mass deportations, presumably an indication it is okay with the US action. Several Cameroonian government officials have repeatedly called on friendly nations, including the US, to repatriate people of Cameroonian origin who use their territories to “mobilize and destabilize” Cameroon.

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