A Nigerian court has condemned the arrest and deportation of Cameroonian separatists who had applied for asylum in Nigeria as "unlawful and unconstitutional", they said.
In January 2018, Nigeria arrested and deported 47 Anglophone separatists who had fled Cameroon.
The move was denounced by UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, claiming that most of them filed asylum applications and charged Nigeria with violating international agreements.
"Justice Chikere declared the arrest and detention of the 12 applicants illegal," said a statement by Nigerian law firm Falana & Falana, referring to a verdict issued this week in Abuja, the capital.
"Subsequently, Justice Chikere declared the applicants' deportation unlawful and unconstitutional, granted each of them N200,000 (US $ 550), and ordered the Federal Government to ensure that they were immediately returned to Nigeria."
Among the twelve applicants was the separatist leader Julius Sisiku Ayuk Tabe, president of the self-proclaimed "Republic of Ambazonia," arrested on January 9 along with his supporters of Nigerian intelligence services.
The group was sent back to Cameroon on January 26, and Ayuk Tabe was charged with "terrorism" in December in a military court in Yaounde, the capital of Cameroon.
At the hearing, defense lawyer Femi Fakana claimed that the arrest and detention of refugees and asylum seekers constituted a violation of the Nigerian Constitution and the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights.
The judge agreed, saying the expulsion of the group was "a total violation" of legal obligations prohibiting Nigeria "expelling or deporting refugees" from the country.
He ordered the government to ensure that they were returned to Nigeria and that their fundamental rights were respected.
Since their deportation, the 47 were kept secret in a high-security police station in Yaounde.
Clashes between the army and separatists occur almost daily in the two anglophone regions on the western flank of Cameroon. At the end of 2016, there was an armed uprising of foreigners marginalized by the French-speaking majority.