YAOUNDE - A second group of Cameroonian asylum-seekers are expected to be deported from the U.S. Tuesday, sparking condemnation from rights groups. Activists fear the mostly English-speaking Cameroonians will be prosecuted for alleged involvement in the country's separatist conflict. There are also growing concerns over the fate of the first group of Cameroonian asylum-seekers deported from the U.S. last month.
Cameroon media reports say 36 citizens will arrive in Douala from Texas on Tuesday after failed asylum bids in the United States.
Rights groups condemned the deportations, the second group of Cameroonian asylum-seekers sent back by the U.S. since October, when 86 were sent back.
Ignatius Njowir, secretary general of the Cameroon Center for Peace and the Protection of Human Rights, says the U.S. is putting the mainly anglophone Cameroonians at risk of torture for their alleged links to a rebellion in the country’s west.
"It is a pity to see a country like America that the world looks up to as far as democracy is concerned, to see them deporting Cameroonians, Africans knowing fully well what is happening in their countries and what those people have been going through before escaping to America," Njowir said.
Forty-year-old Cameroonian merchant Yaya Claudine’s younger brother was among the group deported in October.
She says he was released but has since gone into hiding, along with others who were freed, for fear of prosecution.
"When these people came back, they were held for two weeks. The government freed some of them on conditions that they were still going to investigate if they (asylum seekers) were in support of separatist fighters. Then, those that were not free are still there (detained) and then the ones that were freed are living in hiding because they do not know the outcome of the investigation. We do not even know where some of them are hiding," Claudine said.
The last time the asylum seekers were seen in public was on October 14, when armed police escorted them from Douala International Airport.
A government statement read on state Cameroon Radio Television (CRTV) said some of those deported were freed after being given medical treatment.
The statement said others were held for investigation, including three military deserters who would face charges in court.
Authorities did not say how many of the asylum-seekers were released, how many were being investigated or for what crimes.
Cameroon’s minister delegate to the minister of justice Jean de Dieu Momo denies that any of those deported by the U.S. faced torture. But he said any Cameroonians who broke the law would face justice.
Momo said some Cameroonians in the diaspora, and some who are escaping from their country, have been very hostile and unfair to their nation of origin. He said while the government is listening to legitimate grievances, it is good for those who commit crimes to face the law.
Cameroon’s government accuses the diaspora in the U.S. of sponsoring anglophone rebels in the French-speaking-majority-nation’s western regions.
The United Nations says more than 3,000 people have been killed in Cameroon’s four-year separatist conflict and half-a-million others displaced.
The Cameroonians deported in October and on Tuesday entered the U.S last year through South America and Mexico to seek asylum.
The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump has been tightening restrictions on immigrants and asylum seekers.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) says as a policy does not comment on deportations until after they have occurred.