WASHINGTON (AP) — The Homeland Security Department said Friday it will temporarily shield people from deportation back to Cameroon, saying extreme violence between government forces and armed separatists in the African nation made it unsafe for them to return.
The department also cited increasing attacks by the Boko Haram extremist group as grounds for giving Cameroonians an 18-month reprieve from deportation if they were in the United States on Thursday. They may apply for work permits.
Homeland Security estimates 11,700 Cameroonians may be eligible.
“Extreme violence and the widespread destruction of civilian infrastructure have led to economic instability, food insecurity, and several hundred thousand displaced Cameroonians without access to schools, hospitals, and other critical services,” the department said.
Cameroon becomes the 14th country eligible for Temporary Protected Status, a program created in 1990 for people from countries stricken by civil strife or natural disasters. Short-term reprieves are often extended in increments of up to 18 months, leading many to describe it as anything but temporary.
About 200,000 El Salvadorans have had temporary status since 2001, after an earthquake hit the Central American country.
The Biden administration previously created temporary status for people from Myanmar, Haiti, Venezuela and Ukraine. The designation of Ukraine, which followed Russia’s invasion, fueled calls for Cameroon to get the same treatment, with some advocates for the African country claiming racial bias.
Large numbers of Cameroonians appeared at the U.S. border with Mexico in 2019 until Ecuador imposed travel restrictions, limiting their ability to reach the border by traveling over land.
Immigration advocates said the decision was welcome, if overdue.
“It’s a huge, huge, huge sense of relief,” said Haddy Gassama, policy and advocacy director for UndocuBlack.