More than 80 Cameroonian asylum seekers deported by the United States between 2019 and 2021 suffered serious human rights violations – from torture and rape to enforced disappearance – on their return home, according to a report by Human Rights Watch.
In a 149-page report released on Thursday, the New York-based rights group also documented dozens of cases of alleged abuse and mistreatment by officers of the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) against those deported.
“The US government utterly failed Cameroonians with credible asylum claims by sending them back to harm in the country they fled, as well as mistreating already traumatised people before and during deportation,” said Lauren Seibert, refugee and migrant rights researcher at Human Rights Watch.
“The Cameroon and US governments need to remedy these abuses, and US authorities should provide opportunities for wrongly deported Cameroonians to return and reapply for asylum,” Seibert added.
"I wanted to tell the American government my life is seriously in danger."
Cameroonian authorities subjected dozens of asylum seekers deported by the US to serious human rights violations. pic.twitter.com/bPp1u3hbjS
— Human Rights Watch (@hrw) February 10, 2022
HRW said it had interviewed 41 deported Cameroonian asylum seekers and 54 other people in the US and Cameroon for the report, and collected and analysed US asylum and immigration documents – including photos, videos and recordings – of deported people.
The rights group said the US was in violation of the principle of nonrefoulement, a cornerstone of international refugee and human rights law, that states that no one should be returned to a country where they would face torture, cruel and inhuman treatment.
Some areas of Cameroon have been gripped by violence after Anglophone separatists launched a campaign in the northwest and southwest regions to break away from the country’s French-speaking majority in 2016. Since then, researchers say that 3,500 people have been killed amid clashes between separatists and state forces, while about 700,000 were forced to flee from their homes.
HRW said that nearly all of the people interviewed for the report had left Cameroon due to reasons linked to the violence in the Anglophone regions.
After being deported in October 2020, a woman in HRW’s report said she was tortured and raped by gendarmes or military men during a six-week detention in Bamenda, in Cameroon’s northwest region.
“Every two days … they were using ropes, [rubber] tubes, their boots, military belts … They hit me all over my body,” she said, according to HRW, who withheld her name for security reasons. “They said that I’ve destroyed the image of Cameroon … so I had to pay for it,” she added.
HRW said that Cameroonian authorities had also abused returnees for having fled and for seeking asylum in the US.
“[Officials] said … ‘You people left here, you ran … to the US, telling lies about the government,’” the report cited another woman as saying. She was also deported in October 2020.
Several deportees who had been detained, beaten, shocked with electric cables or tortured repeatedly in Cameroon told @HRW their immigration judges ruled “the harm wasn’t enough” or that they “did not suffer enough.”
— Cameroon Advocacy Network (@CamAdvocacy) February 10, 2022
The human rights group also outlined how ICE, at the time under the Trump administration, mistreated nearly all the asylum seekers interviewed for the report.
The immigration agency, the report said, detained 40 asylum seekers for prolonged and unnecessary periods – an average of 1.5 years. HRW documented 24 cases of alleged excessive force, cruel or inhuman treatment, or other physical abuse by ICE officers.
“I went to the US to seek asylum for the persecution I experienced in my country. I was just so sad, because I did two years 10 months [in detention], and I am not a criminal,” said a male interviewee deported in October 2020.
HRW, along with members of the Cameroon Advocacy Network, a coalition of immigrant rights groups and Cameroonian immigrants in the US, urged the American government to grant those deported between 2020 and 2021 humanitarian parole to return to the US for “urgent humanitarian reasons”.