NORFOLK, Va. (CN) – A U.S. citizen who was evacuated from the Congo as a teen-ager during a coup says Uncle Sam made him sign papers he did not understand, sent him to the United States with 37 cents in his pocket and now demands he repay thousands of dollars in debt he never knew he incurred.
Billy Ekofo says the United States separated him from his father and evacuated him from the Congo in 1998 when he was 17, under mandatory evacuation orders for U.S. citizens there during a state of political unrest. His father is not a U.S. citizen.
Ekofo says officials at the U.S. Embassy forced him to sign loan papers he did not understand and sent him on a week-long trip to Richmond, Va. where he arrived with 37 cents in his pocket and nowhere to stay.
Ekofo, a U.S. citizen by birth, was considered an infant when he signed the documents in the U.S. Embassy. He says two U.S. Embassy officials told his family that all U.S. citizens had to leave the country because of a political coup and civil war spilling into the country from Rwanda and Burundi.
Ekofo says he was given two hours to gather his belongings and report to the Embassy. He says his father was not permitted past the gates and was not present when Ekofo signed the documents.
Ekofo, then 17, says Embassy officials told him he would need money for travel, food, and lodging and money would be given to him if he signed the documents. He says the officials did not translate the documents, which were in English, and that Ekofo, who spoke French, the national language of the Congo, was simply told where to sign. The officials spoke both English and French fluently and could have translated the documents for him, Ekofo says.
Ekofo says he was given some money for food and sent alone on a week-long trip to the United States. After making it to JFK National Airport, he missed his connecting flight due to language barriers, and had to “spend his first night in the United States sleeping on a steel bench in JFK Airport.” He arrived in Richmond, Va. with 37 cents in his pocket and no place to stay.
After contacting a family friend who had immigrated to the United States five years before, Ekofo began attending school and learned English. He sought and received student loans, successfully applied for a passport, and left the country a few times for study abroad – all without incident. He filed income taxes and was never notified of any debt.
It wasn’t until April this year, when he applied for a new passport, that he was he notified of the debt. The State Department is holding his passport application pending resolution of the repatriation loan.
Ekofo says the statute of limitations on the debt expired after six years. He was 17 at the time, an infant by definition, and was forced to leave the country under extreme duress; he hasn’t seen his mother since. He’s now married and working on a post graduate degree. He wants his alleged debt nullified, and a passport.
Ekofo is represented by O.L. Gilbert with Gilbert, Albiston & Keller.