I was arbitrary and unlawfully arrested and detained in a heavily secured military police detention facility in Cameroon for 40 days. I had to bribe my way out of the country to seek sanctuary and protection.
Cameroon is a dictatorship dressed up as a fake democracy, with a leader in power for more than 29 years. As an investigative economics and current affairs journalist, I worked with the leading independent newspaper, Le Messager, and also with other newspapers before that. I wrote critical articles about the government and exposed its wrongdoing and corruption.
Tortured, beaten, and stripped naked in a cell, I have suffered the worst things a journalist can imagine. I fled Cameroon on May 9, 2004, and arrived in the U.K. the following day and sought asylum in Birmingham. I didn’t plan to come over here. I started the asylum process in Birmingham, at Solihull Immigration reporting center. I was asked questions about where I came from and why and how I entered the country.
From the beginning of the asylum process, I decided to go through it as a journalist. It was one of the most terrible experiences in my life, one that I am not prepared to encourage anyone to go through. Successive U.K. governments have introduced increasingly tough asylum policies.
I moved from place to place by order of the Border and Immigration Agency–now the U.K. Border Agency. This is what they called the dispersal program. You have to go wherever they decide to send you in the country. You build relationships and then they are destroyed, since you can no longer stay in the same place. I saw people in the asylum process become ill, even mentally ill, and traumatized. Depression and stress are the most common conditions I encountered during the process.
My asylum was refused first in July 2004, shortly after I made my claim in May. Then I decided to go to London to seek advice and help from my brother-in-law. After that, we made another claim in 2005. I was “dispersed” to Scotland where I stayed until I was arrested by the United Kingdom Border Agency on June 25, 2010, and faced with removal from the U.K. back to Cameroon.
In total, I have been arrested by the border agency and gone through removal proceedings three times. I have been detained in Immigration removal centers around the country, put in the same cell with convicted criminal and drugs dealers. I have been in Dungavel in Scotland, Pennine House in Manchester, Colnbrook close to Heathrow, Dover, Oakington, and Queens House. Three times I have been taken to the airport and saw the plane that I was supposed to get in and go back to Cameroon. But the country’s National Union of Journalists and a lawyer fought back to stop the removal process.
During the entire process, asylum seekers are not allowed to work. So I decided to get involved in the community. I started volunteering with the Citizens Advice Bureau in Birmingham and then in Scotland. I became an immigration advisor. I helped local people and migrants and also asylum seekers like me, regarding different issues like welfare benefits, legal matters, financial problems, and many other things.
When I came over, after recovering from my ordeal, I joined a Swiss-based online magazine called Afriquechos.ch as a freelancer and started writing about economics and then immigration issues. This kept me going, as did support from the NUJ, where I am an active member. I temporarily found freelance work with Localnews.co.uk based in Glasgow. I also continued to write from here for some of my former colleagues in Cameroon. From the U.K., I followed international relations between Cameroon and others Western countries, so I became an international correspondent, unpaid. The greatest challenge for me has been survival and to keep writing
During the asylum process, I was encouraged by my late younger brother to come back home and to face my torturers. But I remember saying to him that the best way to raise awareness that corruption and torture is going on in Cameroon was for me to be somewhere safe and then to help build a strong campaign at an international level that can help to change things back home. But I have since realized that I would have been more important at home rather than on the outside, because from the outside, you lose the reality and the greatness of investigating on the ground.
I considered going home once because I felt mentally tortured by the asylum process, but with support and backing from friends, colleagues, associations and unions, I have decided to stay and take a chance on building a life here.