The recent Human Rights Watch report on the harm done to Cameroonian asylum seekers, both while they were trying to make their claims in the US and when repatriated in a blaze of publicity, should be required reading for all asylum decision-makers (African migrants deported in Trump era suffered abuse on return, 10 February).
From my experience of helping Cameroonian torture survivors over the past 14 years, I have noted that Home Office decision-makers, and many judges, can fatally underestimate the degree of risk attached to the forcible return process, particularly as failed asylum seekers are viewed as having brought the country into disrepute and can be punished with imprisonment.
Police have to be notified in advance of impending arrivals; incriminating items might be handed over as forms of identification (eg showing the last known address as one of the country’s prisons); asylum papers can end up in their luggage, which are then handed over to immigration officers; and many returnees will have no way of getting a national ID card. They are in constant danger of being caught without a card by the police or soldiers, and are unable to get a job, accommodation, pick up money transfers or obtain a phone card.
A decision to repatriate can be a matter of life or death, resulting in a return to detention and torture, or a decision being taken to go into hiding or to leave the country again.
No country, realising its mistake, can magically extract asylum seekers who have been wrongly sent back and who could well be in prison. Their only hope is to leave the country in a clandestine manner, but with less likelihood of access to funds or support and with more danger of being apprehended.
Goathland, North Yorkshire
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