Cameroonians living in the United States will receive work permits and temporary relief from the threat of deportation due to the continuing conflict between government forces and armed separatists in the West African country.
The decision applies to Cameroonians who were residing in the US by April 14 and will last for a period of 18 months, the Department of Homeland Security said on Friday.
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Approximately 39,000 Cameroonians in the US could benefit from the announced initiative, according to the Catholic Legal Immigration Network.
Since taking office in January of last year, US President Joe Biden has used the Temporary Protected Status programme to grant some immigrants – who cannot return home safely due to extraordinary circumstances such as violent conflict or natural disasters – the ability to stay and work legally in the US.
Former Republican President Donald Trump had sought to wind down the protection programme.
While immigration rights activists welcomed Friday’s announcement, some questioned why it took the Biden administration so long to protect Cameroonians.
“As we celebrate the life-saving protection TPS will provide for thousands of Cameroonians now eligible for TPS, we also mourn the harm that came to those deported back to dangerous conditions,” the UndocuBlack Network advocacy group said on Twitter.
1/3 As we celebrate the life-saving protection TPS will provide for thousands of Cameroonians now eligible for TPS,we also mourn the harm that came to those deported back to dangerous conditions.The current conditions in Cameroon made it a textbook case for TPS designation
— UndocuBlack Network (@UndocuBlack) April 15, 2022
A rise in attacks in Cameroon by separatists and the armed group Boko Haram was cited by Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas as a reason for the decision.
More than 30,000 people in northern Cameroon fled to Chad in December after violence left at least 22 people dead, the United Nations refugee agency said. Violence broke out in the border village of Ouloumsa in a dispute between herders, fishermen and farmers over dwindling water resources.
Fifteen soldiers and several civilians were killed in attacks in September in English-speaking western areas of Cameroon, which is in the grip of an armed rebellion.
The Anglophone conflict in Cameron began when government forces used lethal force to put down peaceful rallies by lawyers and teachers protesting against perceived marginalisation by the country’s majority Francophone government.
In response, dozens of armed separatist groups formed to fight for an independent nation they called Ambazonia. Education in the Anglophone regions of the country has become a battleground since late 2016 when Cameroonian security forces used force against the demonstrators.
More than 700,000 people have fled their homes because of the conflict, according to the UN, and some 4,000 have been killed.
According to Human Rights Watch, separatist fighters have carried out systematic and widespread attacks against students and teachers in Anglophone regions, with a “devastating impact” on children’s right to education.