Why Did an Asylum Seeker to the US End Up in a Liberian Prison?

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On a sweltering afternoon in the heart of bustling downtown Monrovia, Moriba Kamara’s bony, chafed hands shake as he talks about his months inside a Liberian maximum-security prison. “I didn’t sleep. I was always afraid.” He feared he would not make it out alive and was constantly thinking, “Maybe this is the place [I’ll] be taken to be assassinated.”
Kamara’s eyes well up as he remembers how “the whole day we [were] locked up, the whole night we [were] locked up. We had no access to go to recreation, nothing.” He and his fellow prisoners were forced to defecate in a bucket inside their cell, which often overflowed. “I got dysentery,” he recalls. “I tried to talk to the prison director to take me to the hospital, but they said no.”

Kamara was one of twenty-two deportees expelled from the United States to Liberia in December 2008 by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Some had served time in US jails for minor offenses. Others, like Kamara, had committed no crime. But for reasons that were unclear to them, all were labeled a security threat upon arriving in Liberia’s capital city. Bedraggled and weak after spending months in immigration detention followed by a long flight to Monrovia during which they were shackled, the deportees were forced onto a bus headed for Zwedru National Corrections Palace, an imposing, isolated structure that is home to convicted murderers, rapists and, occasionally, US deportees.

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