Ministers 'making politics out of lives of the persecuted'

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The Independent Online

George and Evelyn Ekontang came to Britain after being the subjects of a nationwide manhunt by the authorities in Cameroon, where they were political dissidents. Eight years later they are still in London, fighting for recognition as refugees and in fear of being sent home.

George and Evelyn Ekontang came to Britain after being the subjects of a nationwide manhunt by the authorities in Cameroon, where they were political dissidents. Eight years later they are still in London, fighting for recognition as refugees and in fear of being sent home.

Mr Ekontang was a senior figure in Cameroon's minority Anglophone community, which he claims is persecuted by the French-speaking majority.

He has no regrets about seeking asylum in Britain, but says the proposition yesterday by Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, that asylum-seekers should remain in neighbouring countries to the one they had fled would not have been an option for him and his wife.

He said of the Government's plan: "They are trying to run away from their responsibilities. They are just trying to make politics out of the lives of people who are facing persecution."

For the Ekontangs, the nearest country would have been Nigeria, which was in conflict with Cameroon over territory. "Nigeria's human rights record when I left was appalling. Look what they did to the writer Ken Saro-Wiwa. We could not have just gone there as refugees, it's not possible." Other neighbouring countries, such as Gabon and Congo, were closely allied to the ruling Cameroon regime, he said.

Mr Ekontang was harassed by Cameroon's authorities while a member of the opposition Social Democratic Front. His arrest in June 1993 led to a press headline saying "SDF youth leader held over Anglophone agitation". After he fled, another Cameroon newspaper reported that the government held him directly responsible for "fanning" ethnic violence.

According to Amnesty International, other activists from Cameroon's Anglophone community have been held in jail for years without charge or trial. Abel Acha Apong, Chrispus Kenebie, John Kudi and Jack Njenta were arrested in 1995 after collecting signatures for an unofficial referendum organised by groups supporting independence for Cameroon's English speakers.

In its most recent report on Cameroon, Amnesty called for the men's immediate release unless they were charged with a criminal offence and given a fair trial.

Mr Ekontang has so far been refused asylum by Britain because officials claim his activities did not place him at risk of persecution and he had been able to leave Cameroon using his own passport.

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