Lawyers say deportees to Cameroon would be flying on ‘death planes’
WASHINGTON — They fled political imprisonment, torture, rape and the threat of death in Cameroon, made their way to South America then up to the U.S. border to make what they thought would be a clear case for asylum. Now they are awaiting imminent deportation on what their lawyers refer to as “death planes” because of the high likelihood they will be killed by their government upon return.
NBC News reviewed documents submitted in the cases of three Cameroonians who are now facing deportation after their asylum cases proved unsuccessful. They are among more than 1,500 Cameroonians who applied for asylum in the U.S. this year, nearly double the number who applied in fiscal year 2019, despite COVID-19’s downward impact on overall immigration.
The pleas for asylum are growing because conflict between Cameroon’s government and the African nation’s English-speaking minority, known as the Anglophones, has grown in recent years, as has the risk of violence against the Anglophone population. But during the Trump administration the percentage of cases in which Cameroonians win asylum has dropped from 80 to 54. The decline is in large part due to tough immigration judges appointed by the Trump administration and new policies that raise the bar on what it takes to prove and qualify for asylum, according to immigration attorneys and Democratic members of Congress.
“These people are fleeing political persecution. It’s the very reason we have an asylum system in the first place,” said Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, who, along with three other Senate Democrats and 81 nonprofit organizations, has asked the Trump administration to halt the deportations of Cameroonians.
“The United States has a moral obligation not to turn our backs on civilians fleeing from conflict. These individuals are targets for both government forces and armed separatist groups. Allowing their deportation under these circumstances would place their lives at risk,” the senators said in a letter to Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, a 35-year-old Cameroonian named Justice Bantar in ICE detention is figthing to get his case heard by an immigration judge, according to his lawyers. Despite presenting evidence, including photos of scars from being hit on the bottom of his feet, Bantar was not able to make his case in immigration court that returning home was a risk, because an asylum officer did not find he had a “credible fear of persecution” if he were returned, the first bar in establishing asylum.
In a phone interview from ICE detention with NBC News on Oct. 16, Bantar said he was scared for his life and worries he will be detained and killed on his return. His lawyer, Joseph Giardina, submitted photos and sworn affidavits from his friends and family, laying out the story of how Bantar was taken prisoner after he rescued his sister from kidnapping by separatists.
Sourche: NBC news