Somali men shackled for nearly 48 hours on failed U.S. deportation flight, lawsuit alleges
Ninety-two Somali deportees were forced to sit on a plane for almost 48 hours in "completely appalling" conditions with shackles on their hands and feet, says a lawyer representing two of the men.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) attempted to deport the men on Dec. 7, but the flight returned to the U.S. after sitting on a runway in Dakar, Senegal, for 23 hours — during which time some of the men urinated on themselves.
A lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Miami alleges ICE agents "kicked, struck, choked and dragged detainees" during the journey. The allegations have not been proven.
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It's not entirely clear what caused the lengthy delay in Dakar, but ICE claims the flight was turned around because the relief crew was unable to get sufficient rest.
"Various logistical options were explored, and ultimately ICE decided to reschedule the mission to Somalia and return to the United States with all 92 detainees," the agency said in a statement issued to the Guardian.
Lack of food, water, medicine
A U.S. district judge ruled on Tuesday that ICE cannot remove the Somalis and set a new hearing for Jan. 2.
That gives lawyer Kim Hunter less than two weeks to file a motion for the immigration agency to reopen the cases of her clients, Abdoulmalik Ibrahim and Abdihakim Mohamed, both of whom were on the plane.
"I think they're relieved, obviously, to not be put on another plane to Somalia," Hunter told As It Happens guest host Helen Mann.
"There's also a sense of uncertainty, since this is, at the moment, just a temporary reprieve."
Hunter alleges that ICE officers limited their access to bathrooms on the plane as a form of punishment, and that on the flight back to the U.S., they were "basically overflowing and became completely unusable."
She also said there was a lack of food, water and medication on the flight — despite the fact that multiple people were reporting respiratory difficulties.
ICE denies wrongdoing
ICE does not comment on pending lawsuits and has denied mistreating the men on the failed deportation flight this month. It also has said more than 60 of them had criminal convictions.
But Hunter says she has no reason to doubt her clients' stories, and that while there were men on the flight with criminal records, the extent to which they were shackled was uncalled for.
"ICE consistently shows a real unwillingness to distinguish between those individuals who are dangerous and those who are just failed asylum seekers, and so from their perspective they would prefer to literally just lock them all up," Hunter said.
Father of 4 among those shackled
Hunter's clients are failed asylum seekers with no criminal records. Both entered the U.S. about 15 years ago and had their claims denied.
Ibrahim went on to put himself through school and was working as a cardiovascular technician in Minnesota, Hunter said. He married a permanent resident, Zemzem Abdullahi, and has four children.
Hunter said both men were reporting to immigration regularly and were told that there was no reason to expect to be deported.
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But on Nov. 6, Ibrahim was taken into custody. Less than a month later, he was put on the flight to Somalia.
Hunter said both men are still recovering from injuries sustained from sitting shackled for almost 48 hours. They are being held in detention centres in South Florida.
Ibrahim told her he is, "starting to lose faith in the American system," she said.
Violence on the rise in Somalia
This year, 521 Somalis were deported from the country, according to a year-end ICE report.
This report comes as the Somalia-based al-Shabab extremist group has increased their violent attacks in the country.
A massive truck bombing in the capital of Mogadishu killed 512 people in October.
The group has also been the target of more than 30 U.S. airstrikes under U.S. President Donald Trump's administration.
"I have been doing this for about 20 years and I certainly cannot recall a time where the United States was so interested in and so active in sending deportees back to a place where we are also simultaneously at war," Hunter said.
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— With files from Associated Press.