Over fifty people, mainly asylum seekers from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), demonstrated outside the Home Office following the broadcast of a BBC radio documentary on the fate of asylum seekers who are deported back to the DRC.
Jenny Cuffe, the World Service programme-maker, went to the DRC and interviewed people who had been sent back and those who knew what happened to returned asylum seekers. Her findings, which included the fact that there is no effective monitoring of the asylum seekers Europe rejects and that asylum seekers ‘disappeared’ after being detained without trial for up to four years by the security services, were shocking.
In the making of the programme, Cuffe spoke to an officer in the ANR, the Congolese National Intelligence Service, who told her how he had been ordered to look for and interrogate returning asylum seekers at Njidili airport. According to the programme, a man deported from the Netherlands claimed that after arriving from Amsterdam in 2003, he ‘was horrified to see his guards on the plane hand over a dossier to the Congolese immigration officers at Ndjili. He was immediately taken to a cell for questioning and later transferred to the secret service headquarters, where he was held for forty-five days.’ The Netherlands has stopped all returns to DRC pending the outcome of a government inquiry.
Mieke Rang, of a Dutch charity called Docu-Congo, said on the programme that: ‘Everybody who has sought asylum abroad is considered as someone who has said bad things about the country he left. So when he comes back in his country they are not glad he is there. They will punish him hard. Last year, we had many reliable sources who told us that there was now a new policy that everybody who was sent back went first to detention centre in the town and, after that, if they could pay a large sum of money they could normally be released unless their case caused difficulties already at the secret services.’
On 1 December, the day of the broadcast, over 200 people crammed into a room in the House of Commons to discuss the issues of returns to the DRC. The meeting which was called by the National Coalition of Anti Deportation Campaigns (NCADC), Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID) and the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), was chaired by Jeremy Corbyn MP. Speakers included Jenny Cuffe, Anneke Van Woudenberg (Human Rights Watch), Tauhid Pasha (JCWI), Tim Baster (BID) and Didier Matamba (SOS Immigration). Those present called on the Home Office to consider the evidence form the BBC investigation and to halt all deportations to DRC.
Allegations of abuse against returned Congolese asylum seekers were first reported by IRR News in December 2004.