I fled from my home country because my life was in danger there. As a student in Cameroon, I protested against the government and in favor of democracy. I was arrested 8 times, and tortured brutally while I was in prison. I escaped from prison, and immediately came to the United States to seek asylum. I came to this country because I know that it stands for human rights. Because my government took my passport, I had to travel on false documents.
As soon as my plane landed, I told INS officials that I was here to seek protection and that my life was in danger. They handcuffed me, and treated me like a criminal. They chained be to a bench overnight. Eventually they interviewed me, but they did not give me an interpreter even though I spoke only a little English. Then they strip-searched me. I could not believe I was in America. They took me to the Wackenhut detention facility in Queens. They took me there in chains – chained to another asylum seeker. I was very scared because I did not know where they were taking me or why. When I got to the detention facility, they strip-searched me again. They took my clothes and gave me an orange prison uniform to wear. It was like being in jail. There was no privacy. The toilets and showers were in the same room with us. We had to speak to our visitors through a glass window.
I lived like a prisoner in the detention facility for 5 months. I was so surprised. I had escaped from one jail and they put me in another jail in the country that stands for human rights and liberty. Finally, with the help of my pro bono lawyers, I was granted asylum and released from detention. I am now free. I am very grateful to all the people who helped me. I am also grateful to all the people in the government who want to help improve the way this great country treats refugees.
Since I was released, I have become involved in refugee visitation programs – one is at Riverside Church in Manhattan and one is called “First Friends,” a New Jersey group that was started by Jesuit Refugee Services. I have visited other detainees every week since I was released. Some have been detained for years. I am also working to form a group of former detainees to help other refugees who are released from detention and to help to educate the public about how refugees are treated in detention.