Breakthrough tracks mystery refugee claimant back to Cameroon
He is called The Man With No Name but the real problem is he has too many — that of an American who was given away as a baby and grew up in soup kitchens; that of a Haitian son of a drug-addled mother raised in the family of a voodoo priest; and that of a Cameroonian itinerant worker.
One of the most perplexing immigration cases may finally be coming to a close with new revelations about a man who has chosen to live in a prison for almost five years rather than reveal his true identity, which is needed before Canadian authorities can deport him.
It now appears he is Michael Mvogo, 51, a citizen of Cameroon, born in a coastal village between two expansive wildlife reserves, home to African forest elephants and mangrove trees.
“I left Cameroon in 1979 to go and find a better life,” he said.
“I’ve been in jail for a long time and I want to get out and preach the gospel because I’m a preacher,” he said at a mandatory Immigration and Refugee Board detention review, one of 63 hearings he has sat through while officials waded through his various stories and claims.
“The Lord told me it’s time to tell the truth,” he said. “I want to go back to Cameroon and, you know, to preach the gospel to my people.”
The new name is being treated cautiously given his record of lies and obstinacy.
Canada Border Services Agency still refers to him as Andrea Jerome Walker, the name on the U.S. passport he had when he came to Canada in 2005. A year later, while living in a homeless shelter in Toronto, police caught him with $10 worth of crack cocaine.
He pleaded guilty and he was headed for deportation when U.S. authorities revoked his passport, claiming it was fraudulent.
That left him in a bizarre state of limbo: Until Canadian officials know where to send him, they can’t deport him; until they can deport him, they won’t release him.
For years he didn’t waver from his story that he was born in Delaware and grew up on the streets of New York after his mother gave him away.
A fingerprint check in the United States matched the man to a Michael Gee, born in Haiti, who served a sentence for drug possession on Rikers Island in New York City in 1993.
He denied that was his name but later said it was, claiming he was born in Port au Prince and grew up in a family with a voodoo priest as patriarch.
To help solve the mystery, Canada sought help from Haiti, Nigeria, Angola, Ivory Coast, Cameroon and Guinea. A Nigerian diplomat visited him in jail, asking him trick questions. U.S. Homeland Security officials searched yearbooks, mug shots and government databases. His fingerprints were sent to European police forces.
The perplexing case was first chronicled on the front page of the National Post last May, revealing a photograph of the unidentified man.
The apparent breakthrough came from Spanish authorities.
In January, CBSA sent his fingerprints to Interpol, the International Criminal Police Organization, and a check showed a match in Madrid for a Michael Myogo, born Sept. 14, 1959. In Spain he has a record for drug trafficking, resisting arrest and public mischief.
When CBSA officers told him of the new information, he said he was finally going to tell the truth: The Spanish authorities had misspelled his real last name. It was, in fact, Mvogo.
He said he is from Kribi, which is a coastal town between the Douala-Edéa Wildlife Reserve to the north and the Campo Reserve to the south.
“I didn’t want to go back because it’s a long time. It’s 32 years and if I go back to Cameroon now I will be like a new person, I know nobody there, and my father I don’t believe that he’s alive. That’s why I didn’t want to go back to Africa,” he said.
He was taken to Cameroon’s high commission in Ottawa and interviewed by government officials. He told them about his family, where he lived, where he went to school and where he went to once he left.
Ntaribo Ashu, Cameroon’s First Secretary to Canada who interviewed the man, said his government is investigating the claims.
“We have sent information we got from him during the interview to Cameroon and the appropriate authorities, including the police department, for investigation and we have not yet got any response,” Mr. Ashu told the Post.
“Until it is proven, we cannot take him.”
Canada is anxious to deport him. Meanwhile, he remains in jail in the Toronto West Detention Centre despite facing no charge.
“You have shown in your actions over the last number of years a total disregard for Canadian immigration law and an extremely strong desire to remain in Canada,” Iris Kohler, an IRB adjudicator, told him at his hearing.
“The new information that you’ve provided does not change that.”
Until travel documents are arranged from the man’s homeland, however, he will remain in Canada.
“The CBSA is committed to authenticating Mr. Walker’s identity in order to proceed with enforcement of the removal order,” said Vanessa Barrasa, a spokeswoman for CBSA. “We continue to pursue Cameroon as a country of nationality and cannot speculate on timelines or potential outcomes.”
Adrian Humphreys| May 10, 2011| National Post|