They fled five armed conflicts and trekked thousands of miles from Cameroon to the United States, searching for freedom. Once here, they requested asylum and were thrown in jails and immigration detention centers across the southern United States. Read on to learn more about why so many people are running from this country, what happens to them once they arrive here, and what you can do to help.
What Cameroonians Are Running From
Over a half a million Cameroonians have fled their homes due to five armed conflicts (including the Boko Haram terror crisis, Seleka/Anti-Bakala rebel crisis, post-presidential electoral crisis, ethnic/religious crisis and the highly publicized Anglophone secessionist crisis of the minority English-speaking regions of Cameroon). All of these conflicts are rooted in the traumatic history of slavery and colonization by the Portuguese, Germans, French, and British. In response, the government of Cameroon has taken a strong arm approach to maintain control of the country and has greatly limited freedoms, resulting in many human rights abuses. Many thousands of Cameroonians have trek thousands of miles to arrive at the U.S.-Mexico border and request asylum.
Marilyne Tatang left Cameroon after her home was fire-bombed. A grade school teacher, she was pregnant and worried about the safety of her unborn child. She crossed ten borders to seek asylum in the United States. “It was so bad that they burned the house where I was living … they would have killed me,” she said.
How Asylum-Seekers are Treated in US
Cameroonians are thought to be the majority of Africans arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border. They have faced and protested racial discrimination in Mexican border towns, and all throughout the long journey here. But instead of allowing them to live in safety while having their asylum claims heard, the U.S. government puts them in far-flung immigration jails, making it difficult for them to find lawyers and obtain their freedom.
An unknown number of Cameroonian asylum-seekers now being held in ICE detention. There, they continue to face bias and racism to such a degree that 40+ Cameroonian men went on a hunger strike in Louisiana and 140+ Cameroonian women protested in Texas. Detention conditions are poorly documented yet alarmingly apparent. On June 8, Cameroonian asylum-seekers detained in Pine Prairie issued this plea for help, a hand-written account of their grievances with the U.S. asylum and detention system.
Systemic inequity that forced Cameroonians to seek refuge also leave them vulnerable to the novel coronavirus. In 2019, Nebane Abienwi, a Cameroonian, died at Otay Mesa Detention Center in California. This detention center has one of the highest numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases, providing alarming insight into the types of conditions that would lead to an outbreak of that magnitude. Additionally, on Juneteenth 2020, Cameroonians led a Black Lives Matter protest inside Pine Prairie detention center in Louisiana. As one asylum-seeker detained there told a reporter: “It’s like we are in a lion’s den here, surrounded by lions. I’m scared I will die here.”
Cameroonians are denied asylum in the U.S. in alarming numbers, despite the urgent and dangerous situation in Cameroon. When Nebane died, he was taken off of life support against his family’s wishes. Then, the U.S. government further added to their trauma, refusing to grant his family visas to come to the United States and carry out their burial traditions. These injustices go on and on.
What You Can Do About It
Spread the word. Educate your family members and friends about the Cameroon crisis in Africa and in U.S. immigration jails. Tune in to this webinar from the Young Center and this press conference featuring Cameroonian leaders and family members of people detained in the United States. Follow Cameroon American Council on Facebook and Twitter, and share their posts.
Donate to #FreeThemAll. Cameroon American Council assists detainees and their family members across the United States, and is entirely grassroots-funded. Donate to support their work here, and help fund commissary accounts for detained Black immigrants here.
Contact Congress. Call and email your House Representative and two Senators, and ask them to submit this letter to ICE. Help Cameroon American Council gather the data they need to protect these asylum-seekers.
Contact a Louisiana Immigration Judge and Member of Congress, and tell them to free the Cameroonian asylum-seekers! On Juneteenth, a group of Cameroonian asylum-seekers at Pine Prairie Detention Center risked retaliation from guards and courts, and recorded a video protest detailing the abuse they face there. Join us in calling their Immigration Judge and Congressman Cedric Richmond and telling them to free these freedom fighters!