Silenced voices: urgent action on asylum

As the election campaign rumbles on, one voice is invariably missing whenever asylum and immigration comes up: the voice of asylum seekers. Anselme Noumbiwa is destined to be deported to Cameroon tomorrow morning. He will be forcibly removed, handcuffed and taken, restrained by the sheer force of at least two immigration officials, on a charter flight to return to mortal danger and torture. You can do something about this.

Anselme's case has the support of his MP, the Catholic Bishops conference in Cameroon and the Rt Rev Dr Wright, theologian and Bishop of Durham (whose impassioned plea for Anselme in the Independent mentioned the Christian principles of sanctuary and welcoming the stranger), as well as local churches and thousands of online supporters – he is actually the first detainee to tweet from detention in Colnbrook IRC (@anselmenoumbiwa).

Anselme fled Cameroon in 2006 because he was at risk of punishment for not adhering to the tribal traditions of the Bamileke people. As the son and heir, Anselme was expected to assume his father’s role, which included ‘marrying’ his many wives. When his father died in May 2006, Anselme refused to become the Paramount Chief because polygamy contravened his Christianity. In an attempt to force Anselme to comply with tradition, the village elders subjected him to the most degrading and terrifying torture.

It speaks of the inability of our immigration system to recognise suffering that Anselme’s application for asylum was refused and the Immigration Judge who heard his appeal rejected the account of his experiences. This was despite compelling evidence in the form of a newspaper account of his ordeal in L’Effort Camerounais, the newspaper of the Catholic Bishops Conference in Cameroon, the contents of which have been confirmed by Amnesty International. On producing a medico-legal report by a doctor trained by the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture that confirmed the details of his abuse, the judge argued that the final doctor did not work full time for Medical Foundation and, absurdly, a new report was required. This report is not yet complete and will only be available on 7 May.

Instead of waiting for the report, the Home Office is rushing through his deportation with no regard for justice or his human rights. There have been six previous attempts to deport Anselme – the previous attempt only ending when passengers on the flight noticing his distress at being handcuffed and forced to return to mortal danger, stood up to prevent his deportation.

Anselme has lived in Tees Valley since July 2006, an extremely well known and popular member of the community, attending St Mary’s Roman Catholic Church. An integral member of the church, he helps out at the weekly drop in sessions for refugees and cleans the church on a regular basis – being known as the ecumenical church cleaner, because of his occasional attendance of other churches in the area.

Anselme is not alone. Two other asylum seeker are destined to be returned at the same time. Yves Yitgna Njitchoua, still recovering from the wounds he received from his last deportation attempt (reported as an alleged assault to the UK police), is a political activist fleeing persecution for working with the main opposition party and returns to the threat of beatings and repression – Cameroon is a country where Amnesty International reports 100 opposition activists were shot at a recent protest and members of his party are arbitrarily arrested and detained without trial. Jean Mathurin Tadjiokeng, the final victim, who has been brutally beaten on return attempts, will be taken from his girlfriend and the community he loves, to face violence. It is highly likely that other asylum seekers are destined for this flight.

Their deportation should be stopped immediately for the sake of justice and the victims' inalienable human rights. This must be immediate and we all must act now to prevent their deportation. Yet further reflection on our system is needed. All of these people are victims of our immigration system whose voices are utterly silent in the political debate - cases like theirs must be the beginning of any debate regarding the sanity of immigration policies in this country.

Supporters of the three are keen that people do whatever they can to help them. The situation is urgent, time is short and the flight is early tomorrow morning – sign the petition for Anselme, write to the Home Office (details of the cases can be found here for Anselme, Yves, and Jean – with details of all three at Freemovement.org.uk. The campaign can provide further information or resources.

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© Alex Andrews is a writer and activist from Nottingham, UK, and a member of the successful Free Hicham Yezza campaign.

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