Page last updated at 11:37 GMT, Thursday, 29 January 2009

Campaigners fight DR Congo removals

By Harriet Grant
BBC News

Demostration against the government of DR Congo
Campaigners say those deported to the DR Congo face torture

Campaigners say they will continue to fight the return of failed asylum seekers to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The sending of failed applicants back to the country had been suspended while an inquiry took place into whether the safety of those returning could be guaranteed, but it is set to resume on Thursday.

In December, the High Court ruled the deportations could start again but despite assurances from the Home Office campaigners say those returning will be endangered.

Appeal

"I am so frightened, my solicitor says there is nothing more he can do." Titi Nzamba from Cardiff was crying as she explained why she was terrified at the thought of being sent back to DR Congo.

She was speaking from Yarls Wood detention centre in Bedford, where she and her three children, aged three, six and nine, had been taken by immigration officers on Monday.

She said her life was at risk in the DR Congo because she had worked for a prominent politician. Her sister had been killed in her place, she added.

I've been raped in the Congo, I've been tortured. The British government knows perfectly well what happens to people when you send them back to the Congo,"
Bilmi, Congolese asylum seeker

She is due to be flown back to to the country on Thursday at 7am - the first refused asylum seeker to be sent back since a ban was put on removals in 2007.

The Asylum and Immigration Tribunal suspended removals while they decided whether it was safe to send people back to the central African state.

They were examining claims that simply being a returned asylum seeker was enough to put someone at risk of reprisals in Kinshasa.

They decided that there wasn't enough evidence to keep the ban in place, a decision which was appealed by solicitors acting for the Congolese asylum seekers.

Finally, in December last year, the High Court turned down the appeal, leaving the Home Office free to start sending people whose cases have been refused back to Kinshasa.

A Home Office spokesperson said: "We are monitoring the situation in the DRC closely. We are only sending people back to Kinshasa, which is 1,000 miles away from the fighting in the east of the country."

Undemocratic

But campaigners, including bishops and MPs, say that people are also at risk in Kinshasa, where - they say - the government is oppressive and undemocratic.

At a crowded meeting in Manchester, members of the Congolese community gathered to discuss how to fight the removals.

Many of those at the meeting live on vouchers and are legally unable to work.

We are only sending people back to Kinshasa, which is 1,000 miles away from the fighting in the east of the country
Home Office spokesman

They all described themselves as political activists, people who organised marches and demonstrations in DR Congo, where such activity, they say, is not tolerated.

Supporters mentioned a recent Human Rights Watch report, which provided evidence that many opponents of the government are being tortured or killed.

Bleak

One of those at risk of deportation is Bilmi.

She has lived in the UK for seven years, unable to work and homeless for much of that time after her appeal for asylum was turned down.

She said being destitute was a better option than returning to DR Congo, where her activities opposing the Government led to her being targeted.

"I've been raped in the Congo, I've been tortured. The British government knows perfectly well what happens to people when you send them back to the Congo," she said.

She was at pains to stress that her life in the UK was very bleak.

Regardless of their immigration status, it is not at present safe to return people to the DRC.
Michael Scott-Joynt,
Bishop of Winchester

"If it was safe, why would people come here? I was studying law, I was in the biggest university in the country. And my father had a good position.

"I wouldn't agree to come to a country where I can't study, where I can't work to earn my own money. I would have stayed if it was safe," she said.

One man pressing the Home Office to think again is the Bishop of Winchester, Michael Scott-Joynt.

He has spoken in the House of Lords on behalf of Congolese asylum seekers and wants a moratorium on removals.

"Regardless of their immigration status, it is not at present safe to return people to the DRC.

"If we live in Britain it's very hard to begin to imagine the utter lack of security there, what it's like to live in a city where there are a lot of security forces that are under no kind of responsible political control," he said.

But the Home Office say that anyone who is in danger, is given protection and that for an efficient asylum system to work, they must be able to remove those whose cases fail.



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