Clock ticking to secure Cameroon man’s release from U.S. custody ahead of Friday CBSA meeting

Roughly two weeks ago, a Cameroonian man was pulled off a plane set to deport him from the United States after Canada Border Services Agency agreed to hear his case on Oct. 30.

Now, with just days to go before that meeting, advocates are still trying to secure his release from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.

While Kenneth’s case would normally fall under the Safe Third Country Agreement — which allows Canada to turn back asylum seekers who arrive at land ports of entry along the Canada-U.S. border on the basis they must pursue their claims in the U.S., the country where they first arrived — the Public Interest Exemption allows for Kenneth to have his case heard by CBSA.

The exemption covers those, like Kenneth, who fear execution.

Cameroon is divided along lines created during colonialism by European powers and was first ruled by Germans and then divided among the French and British.

As a result, there are English- and French-speaking regions, with English speakers estimated at about 20 per cent of the population.

Amnesty International says long-standing tensions in Cameroon escalated starting in late 2016 “after a series of strikes and protests against what teachers, lawyers and students viewed as further discrimination against Anglophones.”

More recently, the group also called on the U.S. government to refrain from deporting people to Cameroon.

“Given the current conditions in the country, it is extremely likely that anyone who is returned to Cameroon will face a high risk of being detained, beaten, disappeared, tortured, or possibly even killed,” Adotei Akwei, Amnesty International USA’s deputy director of Advocacy and Government Relations, said on Oct. 9.

Kenneth, who is part of the country’s English-speaking minority, says he took part in a peaceful protest on Oct. 1, 2017. He was later charged with political crimes including “hostilities against the Fatherland,” punishable by death.

On Sept. 16, 2018, Kenneth says he entered the United States and requested asylum, but was incarcerated by ICE and had his claim denied.

His case gained traction with just 72 hours to go before he was set to be deported on October 13 after a woman in Alabama shared his story with a friend in the U.K., who then reached out to London Abused Women’s Centre executive director Megan Walker in London, Ont.

Walker reached out to Ryan Gauss, the director of operations and personnel for London North Centre MP Peter Fragiskatos, and by Tuesday, Kenneth was pulled off the plane after CBSA officials agreed just in time to hear his case.

But just because Kenneth has a meeting scheduled, doesn’t mean he can attend.

A petition launched late Saturday with over 1,000 signatures by Tuesday afternoon is calling on Public Safety minister Bill Blair, deputy prime minister Chrystia Freeland, and Foreign Affairs minister Francois-Philippe Champagne to reach out to their American counterparts to secure Kenneth’s release from ICE custody so that he can attend the CBSA interview.

“Whether he receives a chance at a new life free from persecution, torture, and the ever-present threat of death is very much in the hands of Canadian officials,” the petition reads.

Fragiskatos says he’s continued “to raise the issue as best as I possibly can” but he stresses that the decision rests with the United States.

“Kenneth is in U.S. custody. It is not possible for Canadian authorities, even at the highest levels, to free him from U.S. custody,” he explained.

“If he was a Canadian citizen, there would be an opportunity to intervene. However, he is not. And, he remains under the custody of another sovereign government so that is the major impediment here.”

In an email to Global News, ICE officials said “U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is coordinating with the Canadian government on this matter” and directed further questions to CBSA.

A CBSA spokesperson told Global News that “the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) is bound by the Privacy Act in regards to personal information, and is therefore unable to provide details on specific cases.”

Not only are advocates concerned that Kenneth won’t be able to make his CBSA hearing, but Walker says there are also concerns he could still be deported.

“It appears that there is another plane going out soon. They call it the ‘death plane’ because when it arrives in Cameroon, most of the individuals on that plane will face torture and death,” Walker said on Monday.

“And we have the opportunity as a country to take care of all Cameroonians, there are 200 in a similar situation, but specifically we have a special invitation to Kenneth from Canadian border services to attend a meeting this Friday at 8:00 a.m. and we cannot get him released from the custody of ICE.”

The CBSA meeting does not guarantee Kenneth’s future in Canada, but would be the next step in a lengthy process from asylum seeker to refugee to permanent resident.

If CBSA decides that Kenneth’s case has merit, it will be referred to the Immigration Refugee Board. It’ll likely take about two years before the IRB hearing, at which the board makes a determination on refugee status. If the IRB recognizes him as a genuine refugee, then the process towards permanent residency begins.

“London is a fantastic community, as I’ve told you many, many times. Very generous,” Walker said on Monday’s London Live with Mike Stubbs.

“We’ve made arrangements if he is allowed to come to go to border services and be admitted to Canada to have housing provided for him, food and — when he’s able — a job. All of these things are coming from London. Everything is in place.”

With time running out to secure Kenneth’s release from ICE’s custody, Fragiskatos said there is another option for advocates.

“That is the U.N. Human Rights Commission for Interim Measures,” he said.

“Basically what that possibility allows for is for his advocates to petition directly to the United Nations, which in turn would be in a position to petition directly to the U.S. government to prevent a deportation from the United States. It is a rarely used mechanism, but it is something that can be used.”

However, Fragiskatos acknowledged that the U.N. Human Rights Commission is limited in what it can do.

“Considering the current political climate in the U.S. — I’m not talking about the election, I’m talking about the place of multilateral institutions in this particular U.S. government — the relations between the current U.S. administration and the U.N. have not been particularly strong. Let’s put it that way.”

— with files from Global News’ Brian Hill.

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