Marie “Mama” Nan Nfor has not seen her husband since 2018. Her husband, prominent Cameroonian revolutionary Nfor Ngala Nfor, has been imprisoned in Cameroon since 2018 as part of the “Nera 10,” a group of 10 Anglophone leaders who were abducted during the first year of the civil war.
Ngala, 75, has championed for Southern Cameroonian rights for the majority of his life, so he has spent time in prison before—but it is the first time that he has been incarcerated while his wife takes refuge in the U.S. Nfor was visiting the U.S. when the Anglophone Crisis broke out in Cameroon in 2017. At the time, her husband had moved to Nigeria, where he sought and obtained UNHCR protection as a refugee. A year later, her husband was kidnapped and imprisoned in Cameroon. Since then, she has not been able to return to her home, see her husband, or even communicate with him directly. Nfor has learned from her husband’s lawyers that he has developed diabetes and hypertension as a result of the inhumane conditions he has dealt with while incarcerated. Nfor fears for her husband’s life and the well-being of other Cameroonians.
“I am not here in the U.S. because I wanted to stay here,” Nfor said. “I cannot go back to my home out of fear of the danger there. When I see so many youths sacrificing their lives [to leave the country] out of fear of being picked up at any time and executed at any time, I understand them because I have lived it, and I have seen it.”
Advocates like Nfor and members of the Cameroonian diaspora have spent the past five years calling for an emergency Temporary Protected Status (TPS) designation for Cameroon nationals, to no avail. Organizers with the Cameroon American Council and the Cameroon Advocacy Network say the country is facing a humanitarian crisis as the result of at least five armed conflicts, with widespread violence across the country and rampant human rights abuses occurring regularly, including extrajudicial killings, violence against women, attacks against members of the LGBTQ+ community, and arbitrary detention and political imprisonment. The armed conflicts include violence from Boko Haram in the North, Seleka and Anti-Bakala militias in the East, the Anglophone Crisis of foreign annexation by La Republique du Cameroun in the Northwest and Southwest, and a general electoral crisis affecting the entire country.
“Cameroonians are here because they are running for their lives,” Nfor said. “It is my prayer that the U.S. government grants them TPS, at least for the period that this war is waging.”
Despite the ongoing conflicts in Cameroon, ICE has deported more than 90 Cameroonians on two deportation flights in October and November 2020. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), at least several dozen of those deported were denied asylum. In a follow-up report by HRW, they found that Cameroonian authorities subjected dozens of the same asylum-seekers to serious human rights violations. In 2020, 38.4% of Cameroonian asylum claims were denied.
According to 2019 U.S. census data, there are more than 37,000 Cameroonian nationals who could benefit from TPS, 51% of the total Cameroonian population at the time. Nfor, who lives in Wisconsin with her children, has been advocating for support in releasing her husband and for TPS to her state’s U.S. senator, Tammy Baldwin. Baldwin released a letter late last year calling for TPS but has not responded to inquiries regarding the incarceration of Nfor’s husband.
“I’m really disappointed in our Senate office,” Nfor said. “It seems like nobody cares.”
Sylvie Bello, the founder and CEO of the Cameroon American Council, has been advocating for TPS since before the Anglophone Crisis. She said the lack of attention and supportive action for Cameroonian nationals is a result of racism and anti-Blackness entrenched in the U.S. immigration system. While Ukrainian nationals were granted TPS days after the war broke out earlier this month, Cameroonians have been fighting for recognition for years.
“The designation of TPS for Ukraine has been pivotal in really highlighting the anti-Africanness in immigration,” Bello said.
Bello added that the HRW report is successful in uncovering the abuses and dangers Cameroonians face in their home country but fails to directly advocate for TPS. Over the weekend, Bello held a rally in Washington, D.C., near the Georgetown home of DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. They called for TPS at the rally, and commemorated the second anniversary of the 140 Cameroonian women who led one of the largest female protests in immigration detention.
“The way white supremacy works is that people just love talking about harm on Black bodies,” Bello said. “But when it comes to relief, nobody wants to talk about it. When it comes to restitution, when it comes to reparation, nobody wants to talk about it.”
Daniel Tse, the founder of Cameroon Advocacy Network, agrees they have spent years laboring on the issue.
“There’s just a lot of gross human rights violations that are happening in Cameroon at the moment, and this has escalated over the years,” Tse said. “The situation has been dire with killings, and it has caused the displacement of over a million people.”
Bello says they are asking for TPS, deferred enforced departure, and special study permits for international students. Tse hopes that people understand that immigration is a Black issue, and that protection is granted for Cameroonians.
The “Cameroon TPS Act of 2021” was introduced in the House in October 2021 by U.S. Reps. Zoe Lofgren and Hank Johnson, but it has yet to pass.