Detained asylum seekers sue govt. for freedom

Detained asylum seekers sue govt. for freedom
The Carmichael Road Detention Center (FILE PHOTO)

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Attorneys for a group of asylum seekers, who have been detained by the Department of Immigration, have filed a writ of summons seeking immediate release from the detention center.

The writ, filed by Calenders & Co on January 20, 2021, claims that the plaintiffs fled their countries due well-founded fear of persecution by reason of their race and/or ethnicity and/or religion, their Anglophone social and political ties and/or their membership of political parties.

Nine of the asylum seekers are from Ambazonia, Cameroon, and one is from Biafra, Nigeria.

The plaintiffs include Patrick Awara Tarh, Anye Celestine Ngang, Ahmed Mbia Mambingo, Nguesap Carine Valeri, Ndi Tinong, Elivs Forwang, Perpectua Tifuh Forwang, Violet Acha Werengie, Sama Eliana Itoh (a minor) and Christian Fortune Ojetteh.

The wit claims that the plaintiffs have each been wrongfully detained, falsely imprisoned and deprived of their personal liberty.

The writ notes that the plaintiffs arrived in The Bahamas on May 4, 2019 by air, seeking political asylum and refugee status.

Once in the country, some of the plaintiffs informed immigration officers on their intentions and handed over various papers, including letters containing job offers in The Bahamas, and were admitted as lawful visitors for three days.

The writ claims that while dealing with immigration, the plaintiffs were approached by a Nigerian man named Goddy and a Bahamian man named TJ, who they believed to be immigration officials or connected to the department officially.

The two men found a place for them to stay in Nassau for one night and told them to return to the airport to fly to Freeport the next day, where they were accommodated in two apartments.

The writ alleges that the plaintiffs were told by TJ that they needed money for processing fees to obtain work permits in The Bahamas or to get to Miami, Florida, by boat.

Collectively the plaintiffs allegedly paid TJ $20,000 by cash and bank transfers sent by relatives and friends.

However, the man reportedly disappeared, leaving the plaintiffs in the apartment with no food, until after three days when immigration officers came to the apartment, asked whether they paid the money, arrested them and took them to Nassau, where they were told a representative would assist them with their refugee status.

The writ noted when one of the plaintiffs tried to explain what happened, his phone was taken and the messages deleted and the phone, along with the other plaintiffs’ belongings, were later seized by immigration officials.

They were taken to the Carmicheal Road Detention Center and told by officers that they did not need a lawyer because the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) would handle the matter, according to the writ.

Werengie and Itoh (a minor) were being detained together at a safe house until January 2020, when they were separated and only allowed to communicate through “limited to rare telephone calls”.

Werengie is currently being detained at the Bahamas Department of Corrections after being charged with assaulting a fellow detainee in November 2020. 

The writ claims that after several months with no action, the plaintiffs began asking questions and from February 2020 were prevented from communicating with friends or family outside of the detention center.

They were reportedly interviewed several times in respect of their asylum claims by Deneisha Moss-Balboni, an assistant protection officer at the UNHCR. 

Moss-Balboni advised the plaintiffs that her investigation had been completed and the file had been passed on to the government as she was resigning from her position with the UNHCR.

“More than 21 months since they were first detained, the plaintiffs are still waiting for the determination of their applications for asylum,” the writ says.

“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 writ claims that since they were first detained in May 2019, there has been more than sufficient time for the government to consider the applications or asylum, determine the outcome and implement whatever further action is required.

During the course of their detention, the plaintiffs claim, they were subjected to physical and/or verbal abuse and assaults by immigration officers at the Detention Center, and assaults by other persons held at the center that  were instigated and encouraged by the officers.

The writ claims they have been held in inadequate, oppressive and unsanitary conditions and have been refused adequate medical attention.

The defendants include Minister of Immigration Elsworth Johnson, Director of Immigration Clarence Russell, Minister of Foreign Affairs Darren Henfield, Commissioner of Police Paul Rolle, Royal Bahamas Defence Force Commander Dr Raymond King, Minister of National Security Marvin Dames and Attorney General Carl Bethel.

The plaintiffs are seeking an injunction prohibiting the defendants from expelling or deporting any of them from The Bahamas, unless by order of the court, giving no less than 28 days’ notice to the plaintiffs and their legal team.

They are seeking an order for the immediate restoration to each of the plaintiffs’ goods, papers, passports and money that was wrongfully withheld from them, together with damages for the wrongful detention of property and alternative damages in detinue.

They are also seeking an order for the immediate release of the plaintiffs; damages for false imprisonment; special damages; damages for pain, suffering and injury to feelings; aggravated damages; exemplary damages; damages for assault and battery; interest; further or other relief; and costs on a full indemnity and solicitor and own client basis certified fit for three counsel.

The plaintiffs are also seeking compensatory and vindicatory damages for loss of liberty and breach of Articles 19 (1) and 19 (2) of the constitution; compensation and vindicatory damages for unlawful arrest and unlawful detention under Article 19(4) of the Constitution; and compensation and vindicatory damages for the degrading and inhumane treatment of two of the plaintiffs by separating them, under Article 17(1) of the Constitution.