NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Immigration Minister Elsworth Johnson yesterday advised that his ministry is investigating claims of some seven asylum seekers being detained at the Carmichael Road Detention Center after fleeing violent sectarian conflict in Cameroon.
Human Rights Bahamas (HRB) is petitioning for the immediate and unconditional release of those asylum seekers, claiming the government has “no legal justification” for holding them for more than a year and a half.
Speaking to reporters on the matter outside Cabinet, Johnson said, “There’s a process that persons go through that is internationally accepted and we are going through that process and those individuals who will be entitled to asylum, we will see how best we can assist.”
He noted that while individuals can claim asylum in the country, it is only “sometimes given”.
“We have to see the capacity, or you can refer to the United Nations to see how best they can assist with these matters,” he continued.
“We are investigating it. As always, it’s the department’s intention and obligation to follow the law, to ensure that the rule of law is upheld and that the dignity that everybody finds themselves under the power of The Bahamas is protected.”
Johnson insisted that anybody taken into the protective custody of any agency in The Bahamas is “protected”.
He sought to assure that The Bahamas provides “one of the best eateries” for detainees at the detention center, adding that there have been no reports of abuses that he knows of at the facility.
“Where we find that there are abuses of the law, persons go before the court,” he said.
According to HRB, the Cameroonians 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 conflict has reportedly claimed 3,000 lives and displaced more than half a million people.
In a statement, the group said 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.
All have been interviewed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and are in the process of having their political refugee status officially confirmed. HRB is demanding their immediate and unconditional release, and said it “intends to sue the government on their behalf for false imprisonment, assault and battery and breaches of their constitutional rights”.
“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,” HRB said.
According to the HRB statement, the detained asylum seekers are Patrick Awara Tarh, 37; Violet Acha Werengie; Carine Valerie Nguesap, 42; Anye Celestine Ngang; Ndi Tinong; Elvis Forwang; and Perpetua Forwang.
Other detained asylum seekers are Ahmed Mbia Mambingo and Werengie’s toddler, Sama Eliana Itoh.
Tarh arrived in The Bahamas in May 2019 and was detained shortly thereafter, HRB stated.