African refugees see racism in welcoming Ukrainians

Wilfred Tebah does not call on the United States to provide quick humanitarian protection to Ukrainians fleeing Russia’s devastating invasion of their homeland.

But the 27-year-old, who fled Cameroon during the ongoing conflict, can’t help but wonder what would happen if the millions of people fleeing the Eastern European country were of a different color.

“They don’t care about a black man,” Columbus, a Ohio resident, told U.S. politicians. “The difference is really obvious. They know what’s going on there, and they’ve decided to close their eyes and ears.”

Tebab’s concerns echo this protest against the rapid expulsion of Haitian refugees across the border without a chance to take refuge this summer, with African and Middle Eastern refugees fleeing to Western Europe rather than the way African and Middle Eastern refugees have embraced displaced Ethiopians.

In March, when President Joe Biden welcomed 100,000 Ukrainian refugees, granted temporary protection to another 30,000 already in the United States and suspended Ukrainian deportation, two Democratic lawmakers called for similar humanitarian considerations for Haitians.

“There is every reason to extend the same level of sympathy,” Aina Presley, the US envoy to Massachusetts, and the Monder Jones administration in New York wrote to the administration. President of Haiti and a strong earthquake this summer.

Protesting in front of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorcas’ Washington residence and the office of leading members of Congress this month, Cameroonian lawyers similarly called for humanitarian relief.

Their call comes as thousands of people have been displaced in Cameroon in recent years due to the country’s civil war between its French-speaking government and English-speaking separatists, attacks by the terrorist group Boko Haram and other regional conflicts.

Advocacy group Human Rights Watch, in a February report, found that many Cameroonians deported from the United States had been subjected to harassment and human rights abuses since their return.

Tebah, a leading member of the Cameroon American Council, an advocacy group that organized the protests this month, said it was a fate he hoped to avoid.

Coming from the English-speaking northwest of the country, he said he was identified as a separatist and was arrested by the government for his activism as a college student. Tebah said he was able to escape, as many Cameroonians flew to Latin America, trekking overland on the US-Mexico border and applying for asylum in 2019.

“I will be kept in prison, I will be tortured and even killed if I am deported,” he said. “I am very scared. My life as a human being is also important.”

The Department of Homeland Security, which oversees TPS and other humanitarian programs, declined to comment on allegations of racism in American immigration policy. It also declined to say whether it cares about paying TPS to Cameroonians or other African nationals, only saying in a written statement that it would “continue to monitor the situation in various countries.”

The agency noted, however, that it recently issued TPS titles for Haiti, Somalia, Sudan and South Sudan – all African or Caribbean countries – as well as for the more than 75,000 Afghans living in the United States since the Taliban took over the Central Asian country. . Haitians are the largest and long-term beneficiaries of TPS, currently in a position of over 40,000.

Other TPS countries include Burma, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua, Syria, Venezuela and Yemen, and most of the approximately 320,000 migrants come from El Salvador.

Lisa Paricio, who helped Catholics in the fight against racism in immigration, argues that the program could easily help protect millions of other refugees fleeing danger, but has historically been underused and over-politicized.

The TPS, which issues a work permit and stops deportations for up to 18 months, does not limit the number of countries or people it can hold, said Parisio, who is the advocacy director for the Catholic Legal Immigration Network.

Yet former President Donald Trump, in a broader effort to limit immigration, reduced the TPS, allowing titles to expire for Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea in West Africa.

Although programs like TPS provide significant protection for vulnerable refugees, they can be left in legal limbo year after year without access to citizenship, said Carla Morales, 24, of El Salvador, who has been at TPS almost all her life. .

“It’s unreasonable to consider 20 years temporary in this country,” said a nursing student at Boston University in Massachusetts. “We need legitimacy because the work we do is appreciated and our lives are valued.”

In the case of Ukraine in particular, Biden appears to be motivated by the goal of a broader foreign policy in Europe rather than racial bias, advises Maria Christina Garcia, a history professor at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, focusing on refugees and immigrants.

But Tom Wong, the founding director of the U.S. Immigration Policy Center at the University of California, San Diego, said racial discrimination could not be clearer.

“The United States has responded without hesitation, extending the humanitarian protection of mainly white and European refugees,” he said. “All the time, mainly people of color from Africa, the Middle East and Asia are becoming impoverished.”

In addition to Cameroon, immigration lawyers also argue that Congo and Ethiopia should qualify for humanitarian relief because of their ongoing conflict, as Mauritania should, since slavery is still practiced there.

And they allege that Ukrainian asylum seekers are being exempted from asylum limits to prevent the spread of Kovid-19 while people from other countries are being repatriated.

“Black pain and black pain don’t get the same attention,” said Sylvie Bello, founder of the DC-based Cameron American Council. “The same anti-blackness that pervades American life pervades American immigration policy.”

Vera Arnott, a Ukrainian from Boston who is considering seeking TPS, said she did not know much about special status and was not aware of the concerns of color immigrants until after the war began. But Berkeley College of Music Sophomore hopes the relief could be extended to other eligible countries.

Arnott says TPS can help him find a job off campus with a better salary so he doesn’t have to rely on his family’s support, as most of Ukraine has lost their jobs because of the war.

“As human beings, Ukrainians are not accustomed to relying on others,” he said. “We want to work. We don’t want welfare. “

For Tebah, who lives with relatives in Ohio, TPS will make it easier for him to find a better job while opening a bank account, obtaining a driver’s license and waiting for a decision on his asylum case.

“We will continue to beg, we will continue to beg,” Tebah said. “We are in danger. I want to emphasize that. And only for Cameroon will TPS help us out of that danger. It is very important.”


Patrick Orsagos, a video journalist with the Associated Press in Columbus, Ohio, contributed to the story.

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