Human Rights First Statement in Support of Designating Temporary Protected Status for Cameroon
Washington D.C. — In light of the ongoing humanitarian crisis and armed conflicts in Cameroon, Human Rights First urges President Biden and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to designate Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Cameroon. An estimated 40,000 Cameroonians currently living in the United States are at risk of extreme violence, displacement, and death if forced to return to their home country. Human Rights First joins with members of Congress who have also repeatedly called on DHS to urgently designate Cameroon for TPS.
Since 2016, five ongoing armed conflicts in Cameroon have displaced more than 1.8 million individuals in Anglophone regions of Cameroon and have led to more than 4,000 civilian deaths. Today, an estimated 2.3 million Cameroonians face severe food insecurity due to ongoing violence and shortages, and as of December 2021, the number of Cameroonians in need of urgent humanitarian assistance has ballooned to 4.4 million.
Cameroon is unlikely to stabilize in the near term, with ethnic tensions on the rise throughout the country. Lethal uprisings and state-sponsored violence followed elections in 2018 and 2020, and human rights violations by both government security forces and armed separatists have continued throughout 2021. In northern Cameroon, Boko Haram terrorizes citizens and recruits child soldiers to carry out suicide bombings in refugee camps, mosques, and schools. In response, Cameroonian security forces and government officials have repeatedly tortured and disappeared civilian detainees with impunity. The U.S. State Department has catalogued multiple instances of extrajudicial killings, disappearances, arbitrary detention, and other politically-motivated killings against civilians throughout the country in the last two years. Women, children, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and other vulnerable populations are particularly susceptible to extreme violence.
In addition to violent conflicts, living conditions in Cameroon have worsened due to regional political instability, extreme weather, and the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 350,000 refugees from the Central African Republic have sought safety in eastern Cameroon in the wake of civil war there, worsening existing food and water shortages in the region. Unusually heavy rainfall coupled with COVID-19 restrictions have weakened infrastructure and continue to inhibit the distribution of life-saving medical and humanitarian aid throughout the country. The Cameroonian government is using the pandemic as an excuse to charge protesters gathering to oppose the abusive regime with “terrorism and rebellion,” and is silencing peaceful political opposition even as conditions in the country continue to degrade.
TPS would ensure Cameroonians residing in the United States will not be deported to persecution in violation of U.S. law and binding treaty obligations while these devastating conflicts continue. U.S. refugee and asylum protections alone are insufficient to guarantee safety for Cameroonians already in the United States. Despite widespread persecution in Cameroon, the asylum grant rate for Cameroonians plummeted 32 percent between 2019 and 2020. In late 2020, ICE deported more than 90 Cameroonians on what advocates call “death planes” due to the high likelihood deported individuals would be killed by their government upon return. Indeed, a February 2022 report by Human Rights Watch found that “Cameroonians denied asylum and deported by the United States between 2019 and 2021 have suffered persecution and other serious human rights violations in Cameroon post-return.” As of January 2022, more than 3,100 Cameroonians – the vast majority of them asylum seekers – were awaiting U.S. immigration court hearings.
Along with other Black and African immigrant communities, Cameroonians are disproportionately detained during their immigration proceedings. The percentage of Cameroonian asylum seekers held in immigration jails for some or all of their immigration court proceedings skyrocketed from 7 percent of asylum decisions rendered in FY 2010 to 97 percent in FY 2020. While in detention, Cameroonian asylum seekers have experienced abuses including sexual violence, medical neglect, and the illegal use of retaliatory solitary confinement, as well as forced sterilization and non-consensual OB/GYN procedures. In 2019, a Human Rights First client from Cameroon testified to Congress about the abuse and medical neglect she experienced in ICE detention, calling the detention center “a house of tears.” Even in the absence of abuse, the U.S. practice of jailing asylum seekers who have escaped government-sponsored torture, violence, and imprisonment can have severe impacts on their mental and physical health. This compounded trauma affects asylum seekers’ ability to recount past persecution, fosters deep mistrust of U.S. immigration officers and adjudicators, and makes them less likely to receive protection in court.
Cameroonians have demonstrated remarkable resilience in pursuit of safety and are essential members of communities across the United States. To ensure the tens of thousands of Cameroonians living in the United States will not be forced to return to life-threatening conditions in Cameroon, the Biden administration must urgently designate Cameroon for TPS.