Sierra Leone Telegraph: 29 January 2020:
On Wednesday, 14th August, 2019, a group of sixteen people arrived at Lungi Airport in Freetown as deportees from the US. According to Sierra Leone Police spokesman, they were deported for alleged criminal and other immigration-related offences.
The sixteen deportees who comprised of 15 men and one woman, were held at the Headquarters of the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) in Freetown for several days while they were being screened and processed.
According to the police in Freetown, some of the deportees are not Sierra Leonean passport holders.
At least one of the deportees at that time told officers that he had been deported without going through due legal process in the US – an allegation the US Embassy in Freetown denied.
A US Embassy official in Freetown told one reporter: “All the deportees were allowed to go through a legal process before issuing the Emergency Travel Certificates to leave the United States.”
But last week, two of the deportees named – Saren Idaho and Prince Artman Latayo, went on AYV TV to tell the government and people of Sierra Leone that they are foreign nationals deliberately deported by the US authorities to Sierra Leone to avoid due legal process in the US.
Watch the AYV Clip here:
Both are protesting that they are now living against their will and in serious distress in Sierra Leone, where they have no relatives or social connections. They have become stateless.
The two foreigners simply want the Sierra Leone authorities to deport them back to the US. But the difficulty for the government of Sierra Leone is that in desperation to raise revenue, they had received payments from the US government in return for receiving the deportees.
Yesterday, Tuesday, January 28th, the Chairman of the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone(HRCSL) – Patricia Narsu Ndanema, told officials of the Criminal Investigations Department in Freetown that ‘Statelessness is a human rights concern’.
Patricia Narsu Ndanema was speaking at a meeting with the Head of CID, John K. Alpha, Supervisor of Violent Crimes, M.K Alieu, ASP L.A Sana Vandi and the two foreign deportees.
“As an institution mandated to protect and promote Human Rights in Sierra Leone, the Commission is investigating to see what we can do with regards the deportees, as statelessness is a very serious human rights issue” she said.
Saren Idaho and Prince Artman Latayo, strongly protested to the Human Rights chief, that they were wrongfully deported to Sierra Leone, as they are not Sierra Leoneans.
They said they were brought to the country on August 14th 2019 on the allegation that they had Sierra Leonean travel documents. But the deportees said they were not given Sierra Leonean travel documents but received travel certificate when they arrived in Sierra Leone.
The Human Rights chief said she is interested in knowing what has been done so far by the CID about their plight, and what further could be done to ease their suffering and have them returned back to the US.
She said that the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness are the key international conventions addressing statelessness. They are complemented by international human rights treaties and provisions relevant to the right to a nationality.
Between 2011 and 2015, there were 49 accessions to the two Conventions on Statelessness – an increase that will lead to more action to protect stateless people, resolve their predicament and prevent new cases.
In another related development, the Sierra Leone Ambassador to USA – Sidique Wai, last week said that when he assumed office after the 12th September 2019, Emergency Travel Certificate (ETC) arrangements for the deportation of the two foreigners had already been made.
He said that going forward, appropriate steps have been taken to address these unfortunate situations. While working with US immigration enforcement officers in line with US laws, he equally called upon US authorities to respect the laws of Sierra Leone.
He said that the following policy changes have now been made to avoid a repetition of what happened to the two foreigners deported to Sierra Leone:
1. Anyone perceived to be a Sierra Leonean that is facing deportation and held in US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and other enforcement custody must present a Sierra Leone Passport and birth certificate to the Embassy before issuance of an Emergency Travel Certificate (ETC).
2. The US enforcement agency and official requesting the ETC must provide a valid deportation order from a US judge certifying that all legal remedies entitled the deportee under US law have been satisfied.
3. A Sierra Leone Embassy official must conduct a personal interview with the alleged deportee to prove that the individual is a bona fide Sierra Leonean.
4. All information collected will be submitted to immigration officials in Sierra Leone for proper vetting and authentication of the documents submitted prior to the Embassy issuance of an ETC to facilitate travel to Sierra Leone.
5. Advance notification provided to Sierra Leone authorities of arrival of deportee before departure to Sierra Leone.
The Ambassador said they have and will continue to refine protocols to ensure that fairness and legal procedures are strictly adhered to prior to deportation to Sierra Leone.
Ambassador Wai said he was recently interviewed by Reuters news organization regarding a new set of travel ban directed at several countries in Africa, including Sierra Leone by the US government. He said he will continue to engage both the US State Department and ICE to lift the travel ban on Sierra Leone.
In the meantime there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight to the miserable miscarriage of justice and abuse of human rights inflicted on the two foreign nationals now forced to live in Sierra Leone against their will and with no social connections, no money and no job.