Our Voices

TPS for Ukraine should be part of a broader vision of humanitarian protection—regardless of race

By Sarah Decker and Daniel Tse

By granting Temporary Protection Status to Ukrainian refugees who have fled their war-torn homeland, the Biden administration has sent a clear message that it is prioritizing humanitarian protection for victims of war and disaster.

Just not across the board.

With the Biden administration official revealing Thursday that the U.S. will accept up to 100,000 Ukrainians and other people fleeing the conflict with Russia, it is vital to remember that Black refugees are also seeking safety from armed conflict and have been denied similar treatment.

As an organization dedicated to Robert F. Kennedy’s vision of a better, more just and equal world, we feel compelled to speak out on this subject, calling on the Biden administration to respond to repeated pleas to grant TPS to Cameroonian nationals such a designation.

Daily Show host Trevor Noah aptly put it: “It’s great to see Ukraine’s neighbors welcoming refugees with open arms. But it’s worth taking a look at why refugees from Africa and the Middle East haven’t received the same treatment.”

As Biden seeks to re-establish America’s traditional post-war role as the leader of the free world, expanding the country’s network of protection to people fleeing armed conflict could have profound ripple effects.

Thanks to social media, we now have instant access to direct images of Ukrainians risking their lives to seek safety from falling bombs. In real time, we see families torn apart, parents forced to make the impossible choice of sending their children to seek safety in other countries while they remain to fight to protect their homes.

Like Ukraine, Cameroon is also grappling with active armed conflict that has destabilized the nation and caused its people immense suffering.

The parallels between the two countries are striking. Nearly two million Ukrainians, or close to 4 percent of the population, have fled their homes since the Russian conflict commenced. Over a million Cameroonians (also nearly 4 percent of the population), too, have been forced to flee from their homes due to an extraordinary increase in violence caused by conflicts between state security forces, non-state armed groups, and attacks by the terrorist group Boko Haram. These violent threats to life are compounded by increasing food insecurity and economic instability caused by the armed conflict and multiple humanitarian crises. According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, Cameroon now hosts the second highest number of internally displaced people in Central Africa, after the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Under existing immigration law, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security can designate immigrants present in the United States for Temporary Protected Status if their country is experiencing extraordinary and temporary conditions that make it unsafe to return immediately. This designation can last a maximum of 18 months and is reinstated at the discretion of DHS or Congress.

Ukraine is the latest country to be given this status, joining a dozen others: Haiti, Honduras, Myanmar, Nepal, Nicaragua, Somalia, El Salvador, Sudan, South Sudan, Nicaragua, Syria and Yemen.

Still, the U.S. continues to send Cameroonians back to harm. In the process, it has also subjected them to serious human rights violations: holding them in solitary confinement in immigration detention for prolonged periods, using excessive force to obtain fingerprints on deportation and travel documents, and providing access to confidential documents from asylum applications to Cameroonian officials, who later used them to target those returned for detention and torture of asylum seekers.

What’s happening in Ukraine is horrific and the United States is right to protect Ukrainian immigrants from forcible return. But the international community has a moral responsibility to protect Cameroonians and others fleeing war, too.

As Biden himself said, “This is about more than just Russia and Ukraine. It’s about standing for what we believe in, for the future we want for our world, for liberty . . . and the right of people to determine their own futures.”

To sign a petition urging the White House and the Department of Homeland Security to grant TPS for Cameroon, click here.

Decker is staff attorney at Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. Tse is the founder of the Cameroon Advocacy Network.