Statement on Temporary Protected Status for Cameroon
Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights urges President Biden and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to extend Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Cameroon. In light of the serious threats to their safety in Cameroon, the government must protect the 40,000 Cameroonians currently living in the United States from deportation.
Cameroon is in the midst of a humanitarian crisis and internal armed conflict characterized by massive internal displacement, state-sponsored violence, war crimes, and critical shortages of essentials including water, food, housing, and healthcare. These conditions make safe return to Cameroon impossible, and the government must act immediately to extend protection from deportation to Cameroonians living in the U.S.
In the past year alone, hundreds of Cameroonian civilians in the Anglophone North-West and South-West regions have been killed and tens of thousands have been displaced. As a result of the five ongoing armed conflicts, 3.9 million people in Cameroon are currently in need of humanitarian assistance. Political and ethnic tensions in Cameroon have been further unleashed by uprisings and violence following the 2018 presidential and 2020 local elections. In the Far North region, Boko Haram has attacked civilians, including internally displaced persons, and used child soldiers in suicide bombings of crowded areas, such as schools, mosques, and refugee camps. In what is allegedly a response to Boko Haram’s atrocities, the Cameroonian authorities have been known to torture incommunicado detainees, many of whom are civilians. In its annual human rights report on Cameroon, the U.S. State Department has identified an extensive and troubling catalogue of human rights abuses against Cameroonian civilians, including extrajudicial killings, torture, arbitrary detention, and targeted violence against vulnerable populations such as children and members of the LGBTQ+ community.
Most recently, the government has moved to silence political opposition by charging hundreds of peaceful protestors with “terrorism and rebellion,” using the pandemic as a pretext to silence opposition and prevent dissent. The COVID-19 pandemic has only intensified the humanitarian crisis in Cameroon, where violence and heavy rains have catastrophically degraded infrastructure essential to the delivery of humanitarian aid and pandemic relief.
Given these conditions, many Cameroonians qualify as refugees or asylees under U.S. immigration and international refugee law. Yet, despite the worsening humanitarian crisis, the rate of asylum grants for Cameroonians in U.S. immigration courts dropped from 81% in 2019 to 62% in 2020. Due to racist policies, including 287(g) agreements that deputize local law enforcement to act as immigration agents, Black and African immigrants, including Cameroonians, have faced increased detention. There are currently over 100 Cameroonians in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody with final orders of removal, meaning they could be deported at any given moment. On two known deportation flights in October and November 2020, ICE deported more than 90 Cameroonians, on what advocates call “death planes” due to the extreme likelihood that deported individuals will experience torture and even death at the hands of the Cameroonian government.
U.S. authorities must also investigate allegations that ICE personnel physically abused Cameroonian immigrants and asylum seekers to force them to sign documents related to their deportation. ICE has engaged in a pattern and practice of responding to peaceful Cameroonian protestors with unlawful use of force, retaliation, and punitive solitary confinement. In August 2020, a group of 45 Cameroonian asylum seekers at Pine Prairie ICE Processing Center in Louisiana engaged in a peaceful hunger strike, protesting the conditions of their confinement, indefinite detention, and racist treatment—among other injustices. In response, ICE officers in full riot gear, brandishing tear gas and pepper spray, rounded up the protestors and threw all 45 of them in solitary confinement. One immigrant described to RFK Human Rights how he watched as an ICE officer broke a fellow protester’s arm as he wrestled him to the ground, sharing a vivid memory of hearing the “snap” of the bone.
In February 2020, 140 Cameroonian women held at the Don Hutto immigration detention facility in Texas protested against the facility’s egregious conditions, including allegations of sexual abuse, medical neglect, and illegal use of retaliatory solitary confinement. These instances of sexual and medical abuse are not unique. Pauline Binam, a Cameroonian woman detained at Irwin County Detention Center, was forcibly sterilized by ICE officials. When she reported this abuse, ICE attempted to deport her.
Given the severe consequences of deportation and the widespread mistreatment of Cameroonian refugees in the U.S., Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights calls upon President Biden and Secretary Mayorkas to immediately grant Temporary Protected Status to all Cameroonians currently residing in the United States.