Washington, DC – On Friday, following a non-stop week of action on Capitol Hill, the Cameroon Advocacy Network (CAN) hosted a virtual listening session to demand safety and dignified treatment of Cameroonians in the United States in light of the Biden administration’s continued cruel treatment and deportations of Cameroonian people.
The listening session took place just days after over 200 immigration, racial justice, labor, human rights, and religious organizations sent a letter to the Biden administration demanding a designation of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) or Deferred Enforced Departure for Cameroon, and an immediate end to deportations.
Courageous individuals whose lives have been haunted by the traumas of detention and deportation spoke about how two changes in U.S. policy—both within the authority of the Executive Branch—would alleviate some of their fears and allow them to start new lives with some stability, safety, and freedom.
Organizers of the event urged participants to take action by signing a petition to President Biden, Vice President Harris, and DHS Secretary Mayorkas urging them to grant TPS for the over 40,000 Cameroonians in the U.S. in urgent need of protection, including those currently subjected to racist treatment and violence in ICE detention.
“Deporting people to unsafe conditions and the hands of their persecutors is cruel and deadly. It cannot be justified by any administration, much less one that claims to value human dignity and wants to ‘build back better,’” said Daniel Tse with CAN. “Cameroonians feel that nowhere is safe for them to turn, and that fear is truly unlivable. People who once led full, comfortable lives are now like walking ghosts, the threat of deportation always over their heads. But we also know our rights and our value as members of the human family. Ending deportations to Cameroon and designating the country for Temporary Protected Status are two urgent, reasonable steps the Biden administration must take today to prioritize the restoration of dignity and protection of Black migrants.”
Speaking of his brother who sought asylum in the U.S. and was deported under torture and immobilized in The WRAP, one Cameroonian asylum seeker said, “My younger brother was deported. Actually, it is very painful whenever I think about it because after all he went through… just to be locked up in detention for over a year. He suffered so much… For him to be deported with his case still pending, and he had credible fear, only to send him back to war. I don’t understand it… He went through the worst torture that you can ever imagine… Handcuffed, tied like a bag of trash, dumped in a plane in a flight for over 16 hours. I don’t understand how any human being can go through that… We believed in America, we believed America was a trustworthy country to look after other people… America is aware that there is a war in Cameroon… I will never forget what America did.”
A Cameroonian asylee who went by the name Azoh said, “The humanitarian abuse in Cameroon is unspeakable. We know about four million people need some kind of assistance… houses have been burnt, schools have been under attack… A 5 year old left her parents – she was going to school – and lo and behold she was shot and killed on that day. So Cameroon is this country that you can’t guarantee what is going to happen the next minute. You can leave your home going to fetch water, going to church, and there’s no promise that you will come back… We know America can protect us… they know how hard we work in this country to make America the great country that America is.”
“We would never imagine, we would never believe that crossing the border, we’d be locked up for days in the cold,” said Terry, a Cameroonian asylum seeker who was finally bonded out of immigrant detention with the assistance of Haitian Bridge Alliance’s Black Immigrants Bail Fund. “The situation was pathetic, painful, inhumane – I should put it that way because you cannot have human beings coming to your doorsteps for protection, and you take them and lock them up in a cool house… I am not free, I still live in absolute fear… Every day when I go out just for a walk, and I see a police vehicle passing, you try to adjust your steps, you try to adjust the way you walk in order not to look suspicious. That makes me feel afraid because if you are arrested and ICE takes you, deportation is the next thing.”
“We want to share, we want to participate, we want to support in this great nation – physically, morally, intellectually, financially. We want to support the good of this great nation… We are young, strong, ready to work, ready to support, in whatever way. So we really plead with you to soften your hearts, to help talk to those whose hearts are hardened to see into our situation, because going back to Cameroon, you are just sending us back to the lion’s den… We plead with you to help us get TPS… at least that would take away the fear. It would help us integrate; it would help us communicate; it would help us function normally… We have a strong belief that America can do this for us.”
Fabrisk, a Cameroonian asylum seeker, choked back tears telling his story of broken promises for parole while in immigrant detention: “I am asking myself, some of the same questions that I asked the ICE officers, ‘Is the United States a country that stands as a giant?’ Because I know that leaders of every nation are meant to protect. I’ve said it and I will say it again, if the United States cannot protect Cameroonians who are here in the United States to seek protection, then that means they are siding with the Cameroon government to kill us all… The officials of this nation have condemned the violence that’s going on in Cameroon. And they are still condemning it to this day. So why is TPS going to be a problem to this country? Why is TPS for Cameroon going to be a problem when they’re aware of the violence that’s going on in Cameroon? What will happen to us if we go back?”
“We will continue to fight for our collective freedom, collective protection, and we will continue to stand against violence – all types of violence,” said Guerline Josef, Executive Director of Haitian Bridge Alliance and winner of the 2021 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award. “As we move forward, our call to action, as I have said many times, is for us to come together. We are asking you to uplift your voice so that we can get protection for our Cameroonian brothers and sisters to make sure they are safe from deportation, so that those who have already been released can get their work permits and live with dignity and provide for themselves and take care of those we have left back home…
“Together we will make the changes that we need. ‘Anpil men, chay pa lou,’ which means, ‘many hands lighten the load.’ Let’s continue to win protection and freedom and liberation for all our brothers and sisters.”
Cameroon Advocacy Network is a coalition of organizations and activists across the United States and Cameroon, advocating for the freedom and dignity of Cameroonians. We stand in solidarity with all Black immigrants fighting for liberation.