Cameroonian asylum seekers were allegedly tortured by US immigration officers to force them to sign their own deportation orders. The brutal acts were done in an attempt to fly African migrants out of the United States before the upcoming presidential election.
Most of the Cameroonian migrants were housed in a detention center in Mississippi. Reportedly many of them refused to sign the documents because they feared they would be killed by the Cameroonian government, which has been responsible for widespread civilian killings.
The Guardian reports that multiple sources state that the detainees were “threatened, choked, beaten, pepper-sprayed, and threatened with more violence to force them to sign their deportation orders.”
Witnesses say that several of them were handcuffed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) officers. After being put in the handcuffs their fingerprints were forcibly taken in place of a signature on the documents. The documents waive all of the immigrants’ rights to further hearings and accept deportation.
“The abuse we are witnessing, especially right now against black immigrants, isn’t new, but it is escalating,” said Christina Fialho, executive director of an advocacy group, Freedom for Immigrants. “In late September, early October of this year, we began to receive calls on our hotline from Cameroonian and Congolese immigrants detained in Ice prisons across the country. And they were being subjected to threats of deportation, often accompanied by physical abuse.”
“The reality is that Ice operates in the shadows. They thrive in secrecy,” Fialho adds. “We know that the US government is deporting key witnesses in an effort to silence survivors and absolve Ice of legal liability.”
On October 13 a plane was flown out of Fort Worth Alliance Airport in Texas carrying 60 Cameroonian and 28 Congolese asylum seekers. The plane did not release a flight plan; however, it was tracked by an immigration rights group
Witness at the Border, says the plane made stops in Senegal, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and then Kenya before it returned to Texas.
The majority of deportees on the plane testified that they had suffered torture at the hands of the Cameroonian military. Many had relatives that were killed. The deportees were detained for questioning upon their arrival, but some were freed after family members paid bribes and those deportees are said to have gone into hiding.
“We have no knowledge of what happened to those that were deported. We know they arrived, but we haven’t heard what happened after they arrived at the airport,” lawyer Evaristus Nkongchu stated.
Detainees’ lawyers say that they were told another deportation flight could take place as soon as Friday.
A complaint filed by FFI and the Southern Poverty Law Center cites eight cases of forced signatures or fingerprints on stipulated orders of removal.
One of those involved in the complaint known only by the initials BJ stated that back on September 27, ICE officers “pepper-sprayed me in the eyes, and one officer strangled me almost to the point of death. I kept telling him, ‘I can’t breathe.’ I almost died.”
“As a result of the physical violence, they were able to forcibly obtain my fingerprint on the document,” BJ said.
A detainee known as DF said that he was ordered to sign his deportation order by an Ice agent but he refused.
“I refused to sign. He pressed my neck into the floor. I said, ‘Please, I can’t breathe.’ I lost my blood circulation. Then they took me inside with my hands at my back where there were no cameras.”
DF says he was taken to another area where he was subjected to further assault.
“They put me on my knees where they were torturing me and they said they were going to kill me. They took my arm and twisted it. They were putting their feet on my neck. While in Zulu, they did get my fingerprint on my deportation document and took my picture,” he said.
DF was aboard the October 13 flight and it is unknown what happened to him.
Sarah Loicano, an Ice spokeswoman, confirmed that a formal complaint overuse of force against the Cameroonian detainees has been submitted to the DHS inspector general.
“That said, in general, sensationalist unsubstantiated allegations, particularly those made anonymously and without any fact-checkable specifics, is irresponsible, and should be treated with the greatest of skepticism,” Luciano said.
“Ice is firmly committed to the safety and welfare of all those in its custody. Ice provides safe, humane, and appropriate conditions of confinement for individuals detained in its custody,” she added.
A sister of one of the detainees aboard the October 13 flight says that her brother was returned to Douala.
“My brother ran away to America thinking that you will be safe here in another culture. But they sent him back and right now he has no life. He’s hiding in the bush. What can you do in the bush?”