By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
HUMAN Rights Bahamas has accused the Department of Immigration of “illegally detaining” seven asylum seekers who sought to take refuge in the country after fleeing Cameroon, Central Africa due to fears of persecution.
In a statement released yesterday, the human rights watchdog called for the immediate release of the asylum seekers, noting activists intend to sue the government on their behalf “for false imprisonment, assault and battery and breaches of their constitutional rights.”
Rights Bahamas said: “Less than a week after (Immigration) Minister Elsworth Johnson insisted that the Bahamas is a ‘country of laws’, it has emerged that his Immigration Department is (allegedly) illegally detaining seven asylum seekers who fled a violent sectarian conflict in Cameroon where they were targeted as members of a minority group.
“The seven are from an English-speaking region in the northwest of that country, which since 2017 has struggled to resist forcible assimilation by the much larger French-speaking majority and government. The struggle that so far claimed 3,000 lives and displaced more than half a million people.
“The asylum seekers have not been charged with or convicted of any crime in the Bahamas and the government has no legal justification for holding them indefinitely, some for more than a year and a half,” the statement said.
However one of the asylum seekers was arraigned last week.
“All have been interviewed by the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR), and are in the process of having their political refugee status officially confirmed.”
An asylum–seeker is a person who is yet to receive a decision on his/her claim for refugee status. This term could refer to someone who has not yet applied for refugee status or someone who is awaiting feedback.
Many applicants for refugee status will not be successful in attaining it, this newspaper had been previously told.
Yesterday, Rights Bahamas sought to remind officials of the rights of each individual as noted in the constitution.
“The Bahamas constitution prohibits unlawful arrest and arbitrary detention; it also guarantees freedom of movement and due process for anyone detained, including access to legal representation and the right to be brought before a court of law as soon as possible and either charged with a crime, or released, “ the statement continued.
“The Bahamas became a signatory of the United Nations Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees in 1993. The main thrust of this agreement is the principle of non-refoulement, which asserts that a refugee should not be returned to a country where they face serious threats to their life or freedom. This is now considered a core rule of customary international law.”
When contacted for comment yesterday, Attorney General Carl Bethel said he was not aware of the claims, but noted that an investigation would be launched to determine the truth of the allegations.
Attempts to reach Immigration Minister Elsworth Johnson were unsuccessful up to press time.