The Plain Dealer
Copyright (c) The Plain Dealer 2002
Monday, April 15, 2002
orders to homelands terrify 2 men Cameroon man fears jail, beatings over failed
Michael Sangiacomo; Plain Dealer Reporter
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GREG HORVATH SPECIAL TO THE PLAIN DEALER Nasiru Uba Alhadji, of Toledo, worries he will never again see his American wife, Pamsie, and son, 17-month-old Ousman, if he is deported to Cameroon. He said his family organized a failed coup, and he is seeking asylum in the United States.
Nasiru Uba Alhadji believes the only thing waiting for him in his Western African homeland of Cameroon is a jail cell and torture.
In 1984, Alhadji's family headed a failed coup and fled the country. Alhadji stayed behind and said he was jailed and beaten for involvement in political protests. One day in 1991, he received a summons to appear in court for an unspecified offense. He said on that day he fled the country with a friend's passport and never looked back.
"I did not know what the summons was about, but I did not want to stay and find out," said Alhadji, who is now married to an American woman and living in Toledo. "I did not want to go back to prison."
Eleven years since his escape from Cameroon, Alhadji is facing the prospect of just that. The Immigration and Naturalization Service has issued a deportation order to return Alhadji to Cameroon because he is here illegally on an expired tourist visa.
"If I go back, they will be waiting for me," he said. "I know I will be thrown back into jail and tortured. This is not right. I am settled here now, married, with a child."
A spokesman for the INS said he could not comment on a case in the courts, but noted that requests for asylum are taken very seriously. Alhadji is free on bail. A spokesman for the Cameroon embassy in Washington, D.C., said even though he did not know Alhadji's case, he didn't believe it.
"Everyone who comes to America from Cameroon illegally says they will be tortured if they return," said Carlton Ndongo, first secretary. "We have more than 100 political parties in Cameroon, and everyone is free to protest the government."
Alhadji's lawyer, Richard T. Herman, said Ndongo's reaction was to be expected from a government official.
Alhadji said he understands how Americans might not know what his jail time in Cameroon was like.
"Many of us were arrested and jailed for protesting," he said. "I spent one week in jail the first time, two weeks the second time and the third arrest I was jailed for a month. They never charged me with anything, just kept me in jail. Every day guards beat me all over with batons and told me this is what happens to people who protest the government."
"I was so swollen all over from the beatings," he said. "There was nothing I could do but take the torture every day."
Cameroon's record on human rights is generally poor, according to a U.S. State Department report that reads, in part:
"Security forces committed numerous extrajudicial killings; reportedly were responsible for disappearances, some of which may have been politically motivated; and tortured and often beat and otherwise abused detainees and prisoners, generally with impunity."
Herman said Alhadji applied for asylum when he was first picked up by the INS shortly after his arrival in Georgia in 1994 during a raid at a work site using illegal aliens.
"I was sick to my stomach," Alhadji said. "I am not a very good talker. When I talked to immigration, I did not understand how it worked. I thought I could just tell my story and they would let me stay. They bombarded me with questions. I got very nervous. They jumped all over me."
Alhadji moved to Toledo in 1994 while waiting for the INS to consider his request for asylum. There, he met and married Pamsie, a nurse. They have a 17-month-old son, Ousman.
Alhadji filed for permanent residency after his marriage. Herman said bureaucratic bungling on the part of the INS and a nonprofit group helping Alhadji resulted in an order of deportation in 2001.
Herman filed an appeal to the order and the case is being heard before the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The court issued a temporary order allowing Alhadji to stay until the matter is resolved, but Herman said the INS continues to send his client deportation notices.