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Detained African refugees seeking asylum take legal action

A group of African political refugees has taken legal action against the government, claiming false imprisonment at the Carmichael Road Detention Centre and requesting that an injunction be granted to prevent their deportation to their home countries. 

The writ of summons, which was filed on Wednesday, lists Minister of Financial Services, Trade & Industry and Immigration Elsworth Johnson, Director of Immigration Clarence Russell, Minister of Foreign Affairs Darren Henfield, Commissioner of Police Paul Rolle, Commander of the Royal Bahamas Defense Force Dr. Raymond King and Attorney General Carl Bethel as the respondents.

The plaintiffs are: Patrick Aware Tarh, Any Celestine Ngang, Ahmed Mbia Mambingo, Nguesap Carine Valeri, Ndi Tinong, Elvis Forwang, Perpectua Tifuh Forwang, Violet Acha Werengie, Sama Eliana Itoh, who is listed as a minor, and Christian Fortune Ojetteh.

Seven of the applicants claim that they were, and continue to be, wrongfully deprived of their personal liberty and falsely imprisoned.

Two of the plaintiffs claim they were wrongfully deprived of their personal liberty and falsely imprisoned between May 18, 2019, and September 16, 2020.

Another plaintiff claims to have been wrongfully deprived of her personal liberty and falsely imprisoned between May 16, 2019, and November 20, 2020.

Nine of the plaintiffs come from or are connected to the self-declared state of Ambazonia, a predominantly Anglophone area of land which is also claimed by the government of the Republic of Cameroon.

“Following the Ambazonian declaration of independence on October 1, 2017, the government of Cameroon declared war on the separatists and has subsequently imprisoned some of the Ambazonian leadership,” the writ of summons reads.

“The ongoing conflict has resulted in many people, including the first to ninth plaintiffs, fleeing the country.”

The other plaintiff is from Biafra, Nigeria, and is a member of the Igbo ethnic group, which, according to the document, is a marginalized group subject to persecution.

All 10 plaintiffs have “a well-founded fear of persecution by reason of their race and/or ethnicity and/or religion and/or because of their Anglophone social and political ties and/or their membership of political parties”. 

One of the plaintiffs is a member of the interim government of Abazonia.

The writ of summons notes that the plaintiffs were arrested by immigration officials on Grand Bahama on or about May 16, 2019.

Eight of the plaintiffs were subsequently and compulsorily taken to the detention center on New Providence.

The remaining plaintiffs, including a two-year-old child, were taken to a detention facility for women and their children.

After being detained, the plaintiffs were interviewed about their asylum claims by Deneisha Moss-Balboni, then assistant protection officer with the United Nations Higher Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Some of the plaintiffs were interviewed a second time by Moss-Balboni.

“Sometime in November 2019, Ms. Moss met with all of the plaintiffs and told them that she had finished her investigations into their claims for asylum, and had passed the file to the government, as she was resigning from her position with the UNHCR,” the documents note. 

“More than 21 months since they were first detained, the plaintiffs are still waiting for the determination of their applications for asylum. The government (in the person of one or more of the defendants) remains responsible for the lawful and timely processing of applications for asylum.”

The document notes that there has been “more than sufficient time” for the government to consider the plaintiffs’ applications for asylum, determine an outcome and implement whatever further action is required.

“From the fact that the plaintiffs’ applications have still not been determined and/or the results of such determinations implemented, the plaintiffs infer that this failure to process asylum seekers in a timely manner is part of government policy,” it adds.

“During the period of their incarceration, some of the plaintiffs, including the second, third, fourth and fifth plaintiffs, were subjected to physical and/or verbal abuse and assaults by the immigration officers at the detention center, and assaults by other persons held at the detention center but instigated and encouraged by the immigration and/or defense force officers at the detention center.”

As a result, the plaintiffs are seeking damages for false imprisonment, assault and battery, pain and suffering, and several other claims.

The writ of summons notes that some of the plaintiffs were asked to consent to their own deportation on January 14, 2021, but refused to do so.

“The plaintiffs are now concerned that one or more of the defendants is seeking to arrange for the plaintiffs’ imminent deportation,” it reads.

For this reason, they are also seeking an injunction prohibiting the respondents “from expelling, deporting or otherwise removing from The Bahamas the plaintiffs or any of them, save by order of the court made on an application giving no less than 28 days notice to the relevant plaintiff and to the plaintiffs’ attorneys”.

The plaintiffs are represented by Callenders & Co.

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Jasper Ward

Jasper Ward started at The Nassau Guardian in September 2018. Ward covers a wide range of national and social issues. Education: Goldsmiths, University of London, MA in Race, Media and Social Justice

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