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Thursday, February 29, 2024
Courthouse News Service
Thursday, February 29, 2024 | Back issues
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Alleged Rape Victim |Wins Asylum Review

(CN) - A Liberian woman who was allegedly raped by supporters of an authoritarian regime and witnessed the murder of her mother, the rape of a daughter and the abduction of another daughter won a second shot at asylum in the 3rd Circuit.

Martina Sheriff said she fled to the United States in 2001 using a dead woman's passport in order to escape persecution from supporters of former Liberian President Charles Taylor.

An immigration judge granted her asylum, finding credible her claim that if she returned to Liberia she would be killed based on her ethnicity. Sheriff is a member of the Mandingo tribe, a group targeted by rebels once led by Taylor.

In 1990, a group of Taylor rebels allegedly entered Sheriff's village and massacred more than 400 Mandingos, including Sheriff's mother, as Sheriff watched. Sheriff said she also witnessed the rape of her oldest daughter.

Eight years later, Sheriff claimed she was arrested by Taylor's forces, beaten, treated as a slave, bound in electrical wire and raped by four of her captors.

The Board of Immigration Appeals reversed the immigration judge's findings, saying he failed to cite any specific documents supporting Sheriff's claim that Liberia is still too unstable for her safe return. The board said she had not shown "compelling reasons for being unable or unwilling to return to Liberia."

The Philadelphia-based appeals court called the board's rationale "a slender reed, indeed."

"[T]he BIA ignored Sheriff's gripping testimony that Taylor's people are still in power, are searching for her, and will kill her if she returns," Judge Maryanne Barry wrote.

"The burning of Sheriff's home and the murder her mother and rape of her eldest daughter in front of her were among the atrocities not mentioned by the BIA because, we are told, it was not required to mention every 'detail,' as the government somewhat cavalierly describes them."

The appellate panel granted Sheriff's petition for review.

On remand, the board must decide "whether relief should be granted either because the government has not rebutted the presumption of future persecution or because Sheriff has established that humanitarian asylum should be granted."

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