Unsafe Return II (2013, Catherine Ramos)

This report has been prepared in order to continue to inform the Home Office, FCO and government departments such as the Country of Origin Information Service of new information relating to the post return experience of Congolese returnees to DRC. Since 2010 Home Office departments have been provided with evidence in order to inform policy, as recommended by the Independent Asylum Commission. This included the report Unsafe Return – Refoulement of Congolese asylum seekers’ – which documented the post-return experience of people removed from UK to the Democratic Republic of the Congo between 2006 and 2011.1 The monitoring of returnees and the analysis of Home Office documents have continued since December 2011 to date and have raised concerns that

  • the pattern of arrest, interrogation and ill treatment of refused asylum seekers continues
  • foreign national offenders have been imprisoned and ill treated
  • voluntary returnees have faced problems at N’djili airport
  • Home Office documents which are used to determine asylum applications and relied upon in Court are inaccurate
  • evidence in the possession of the FCO/Home Office/Country of Origin Information Service has been omitted from these current documents
  • inaccurate information has been passed to Ministers/MPs from Government departments
  • COIS has not demonstrated independence when selecting information for its reports

In 2003 the Immigration Advisory Service identified inaccuracies, lack of objectivity and misleading information in Country Information Policy Unit Assessments. (IAS Research Unit, Home Office Country Assessments: An analysis; Editor: Natasha Carver). The same flaws were found in 2013 in the current Home Office documents relating to DRC.

Over the last decade there have been many reports of ill treatment of Congolese refused asylum seekers who have been forcibly removed back to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. UK Parliamentarians have on three occasions since 2007 proposed Early Day Motions, the most recent in 2012, asking for removals to be halted in view of the overwhelming evidence that returnees are persecuted. In April 2012 Alex Cunningham wrote to all Labour MPs in the North East of England asking that they discuss returns to DRC and how they might work together on the issue.

The Congolese authorities regard refused asylum seekers as having betrayed the President and their country. According to the Home Office Fact Finding Mission report, Congolese officials have described them as ‘Waduwi wa inje’, enemy of the state, (FFM P.72)3. They have breached national security in seeking asylum. Returnees have been interviewed by the National Intelligence Agency (ANR) to obtain evidence about their activities in the UK and the activities of Congolese nationals still in UK who oppose the regime. Reports have consistently referred to detention after arrival at N’djili airport or at a home address and interrogation and ill treatment by officers of ANR and the Congolese Immigration Directorate (DGM).

Refugee Action ranks DRC as a red flagged country. This means that those considering voluntary return should seek legal advice about risks before continuing with their application. It recommends that they read current Home Office documents and Unsafe Return. Refugee Action guidance documents state that: ‘Clients and Choices staff who have recently visited the DRC Embassy have witnessed poor treatment of individuals at the Embassy. This includes both verbal abuse and the physical removal of people from the Embassy using unnecessary force. There is no suggestion that this treatment is specific to AVR clients or that travel documents have not been obtained but caseworkers should advise that the environment at the embassy 11 can be hostile.’

The Home Office and FCO reassure MPs that returnees and their families in the UK can contact the British Embassy in the DRC about any concerns/problems post return. Returnees have said they feel they cannot approach the British Embassy for help, as the British authorities have declared their account of persecution, which led to the initial application for asylum, not credible. The British Embassy is located very near the residence of President Kabila where dissidents have been imprisoned in cells and tortured. The British Embassy allowed R23/2012 to be taken back to prison, where he was subjected to torture. He had begged for help.

Unsafe Return, is cited in the current Home Office Country of Origin Information Report on DRC. It is, therefore, part of evidence presented by the Home Office in asylum hearings. In 2012, a ‘considered’ response to the report was promised to Bishop Michael Scott-Joynt and the author of Unsafe Return, Catherine Ramos. A Fact Finding Mission was sent to Kinshasa in June 2012 to gather evidence. The Country Policy Bulletin on returns to DRC, which drew on the findings of the FFM report, states that the UK Border Agency continues to believe that the findings of the BK country guidance case are ‘significant and still relevant’ when the ‘country evidence detailed in this bulletin is taken into consideration.’ The CPB is the considered response to Unsafe Return.

This updated report will demonstrate that, due to omissions and inaccuracies, the Country Policy Bulletin is not a ‘considered’ response and its conclusions are not safe. If the evidence in it is inaccurate, the UKBA reliance upon such evidence to support its belief that the BK findings are still relevant may be ill founded. This updated report is divided into four Sections.

Section A – details the monitoring of refused Congolese asylum seekers removed between November 2011 and July 2013. It also gives an update of Unsafe Return returnees.

Section B – examines current Home Office documents and reports in order to identify inconsistencies in and between documents being put before Immigration Judges

Section C – illustrates, through reference to a specific case, the lack of credibility of Home Office, FCO and British Embassy information given to MPs and Ministers

Section D – examines whether the CPB is a considered response to Unsafe Return