A Gambian man has been awarded $161,000 in damages after a judge established that he was wrongfully imprisoned by the Bahamian authorities on suspicion of immigration violations.
Senior Justice Indra Charles concurred that Bojang’s arrest was lawful because he’d overstayed in Bahamas but he found out that his detention was illegal because it did not determine whether Bojang committed any crime by overstaying.
Ousman Bojang reportedly arrived by plane at Lynden Pindling International Airport in 2015 but failed to notify immigration officials of his intention to seek political asylum.
A source said he was arrested and detained when he visited the immigration office to request for an extension of his stay.
He did not however appear before any Bahamian court nor was he subject to a deportation order.
Meanwhile, the immigration officials attempted to deport him to The Gambia through Cuba in 2016 but the Cuban authorities returned him to the Bahamas and was taken to jail.
But Bojang was later brought before the court pursuant to a habeas corpus application and granted temporary permission to remain in Bahamas until a decision on his asylum application was taken by the UNHCR or return to The Gambia.
He was granted refugee status by the UNHCR in 2020.
Meanwhile, Bojang claimed he was held in a large, overcrowded dormitory, housing approximately 300 to 400 people.
He also claimed he slept on the floor for the first two weeks of his detention until he found an old, dirty mattress which he slept on until his release in 2017.
Bojang also claimed he spent days in detention only eating two slices of bread for breakfast and white rice with no protein for dinner because the authorities offered him pork chops with white rice.
Bojang further claimed that rice was sometimes served with tuna and he was drinking tap water for a year but was later limited to a bottle a day.
However, the judge said Bojang had exaggerated his evidence, regarding the prison conditions and that he lied when he told the airport authorities on his arrival that he was in Bahamas on vacation.
But he said in his ruling that it was never established that Bojang committed a crime under the Immigration Act.
Judge Smith argued that his detention was illegal.
The judge said the defendant’s failure to issue a deportation order before detaining Bojang made his detention unlawful.
She ruled that a $40,000 award was appropriate “to show the court’s strong disapproval of the actions of government officials”.
“In this case, wrongful imprisonment constitutes an oppressive, arbitrary and unconstitutional act by a government official,” the judge said.
“Therefore, this case is suitable for awarding exemplary damages,” she added.