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Britain Urged to Reconsider Deportation of Women to Congo

Ambrose Musiyiwa, Leicester, Britain, January 21, 2007

The Home Office has failed to adequately address the current situation in Congo and continues to carry out removals. (Photo: Peter MacDiarmid / AFP-Getty Images)

Monique Ebomata lived in the Équateur province of the Democratic Republic of Congo with her husband, Ogenga Pierre Ebomata and their two children.

In 1999, their lives took a turn for the worst when forces loyal to Laurent Kabila raided the Ebomata's residence and seized Ogenga, who was a high-ranking official in Mobuto Sese Seko's army. Ogenga has not been heard from since.

After receiving warning that her life was also at risk, Ebomata left the two children under the care of their grandmother and fled to Britain where she claimed asylum on arrival with the intention of sending for her children as soon as her application was successful.

When she got to Britain, she tried tracking her children and their grandmother but has not been able to locate them.

To make things worse, three months ago, her asylum application was rejected; and two months later, she was placed in Yarl's Wood Immigration Removal Center. She was told she was going to be deported to Kinshasa, the capital of Congo, on Jan. 17.

In a telephone interview on Jan. 17, Ebomata said she feared her life would be at risk if she were removed.

"I do not have any family in Kinshasa," she said. "If I go there, they will kill me."

Ebomata was one of seven women being detained at Yarl's Wood Immigration Removal Center pending deportation to Congo as of Jan. 12. The others are Antho Nutanva, who is eight months pregnant, Vivian Nguma, Saona Vuadi, Veronique Nikanda, Antho Nutanva, Eveline Nupindo Nazua, and Nlandu Nsingu.

The women risk being deported to Congo at a time when concern has been raised about the continuing human rights violations and armed conflict that has led to the death of nearly four million people — mostly women, children, and the elderly — driven more than three million people from their homes, and placed many of them beyond the reach of humanitarian agencies.

Civil rights activists are urging Liam Byrne, the minister of state for nationality, citizenship, and immigration, to release the Congolese women from detention and review their cases.

Liz Atherton, who is co-ordinating the campaign to keep Nlandu Nsingu in Britain, said the action by the Home Office is unjustifiable.

"Kinshasa [is] one of the world's worst living slums, where insecurity pervades every corner of human existence and eking out a living is practically impossible. Where despite the recent elections, fighting continues unabated in the eastern regions of D.R. Congo.

"Please don't let this happen," Atherton said.

The latest United States Country Report on Human Rights Practices in Congo reveals that there continues to be an absence of citizens' right to change their government. Impunity, unlawful killings, torture, and abuse and rape of persons by security forces are rampant — as is arbitrary arrest, prolonged pre-trial detention, judicial corruption, and harsh and life threatening prison conditions.

One of the many victims of Congo's continuing assault on civil liberties is lawyer and opposition political party activist Marie Therese Nlandu, who is currently fighting for her life in Kinshasa's notorious Makala prison.

Nlandu was arrested last year after visiting the security service headquarters in Kinshasa to enquire on the whereabouts of six of her male colleagues. She was detained and later charged with crimes linked to an attack on Congo's Supreme Court, attacks that took place while she was already in police custody.

Persecution watchdog Christian Solidarity Worldwide reports that Nlandu contracted a severe lung infection in prison and that her health is deteriorating rapidly due to the poor conditions of her incarceration and inadequate access to medical treatment.

Doctors Without Borders said millions of people in Congo continue to experience extreme deprivation and violence.

"The mineral rich east of the country remains gripped by violence, with various armed groups, including the national army, using force against the civilian population and creating brutal living conditions."

In its Jan. 9 report, "The 10 Most Underreported Humanitarian Crises of 2006," Doctors Without Borders also expressed concern at the displacement of tens of thousands of people fleeing fighting between the Congolese army and rebel forces.

It reports "alarmingly high rates of sexual violence against women" and that the health delivery system in the country has been destroyed by the decades-long armed conflict.

In October 2006, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center revealed that tens of thousands of people continue to flee their homes, every month, in a bid to escape attacks by armed groups, including local militias and the Congolese army.

The center said that despite the elections, which saw Joseph Kabila's inauguration as president, the protection of the displaced and other civilians remains a serious concern in eastern Congo:

Armed groups are committing grave human rights violations, including killings, rape, sexual exploitation, abductions, forcible conscription of children, looting, plundering of crops, illegal taxation, and general harassment of civilians. The illegal exploitation of natural resources (gold, coltan, and diamonds) and the smuggling of goods and weapons add to the violence. … Unruly and unpaid Congolese military personnel have become the largest threat for Congolese civilians, as they have been reported to rape and abduct I.D.P.'s [internally displaced persons], terrorize farmers, steal livestock, and pillage local plantations.

The center said the humanitarian situation for internally displaced persons, and other vulnerable people, was critical.

The vast majority of I.D.P.'s and returnees lack access to basic infrastructure (health centers, schools, and roads), potable water, food, seeds, tools, clothes, and straw to build houses. With D.R.C.'s healthcare structures collapsing, displaced people are particularly vulnerable to infectious diseases. Every day 1,250 people die in D.R.C. above what is considered a "normal level" for the country. Over 70 percent of these deaths are due to easily preventable and treatable diseases.

In its Dec. 18 appeal on Congo, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies described the humanitarian situation in the country as "alarming."

The federation said some of the life-threatening problems Congo is facing include food insecurity, the presence of land mines in large areas of the country, and lack of access to clean water:

Cholera outbreaks have become endemic in the country as resurgences have become endemic in the country as in almost all the provinces.

Most of the D.R.C. population lack access to quality healthcare due to long distances and poverty. The populations are far from health services and international non-governmental organizations provide insignificant support to the health zones. The drugs available in the market are insufficient and sometimes of poor quality.

Monique Ebomata is back in Yarl's Wood Immigration Removal Center. She was taken to Heathrow Airport on Jan. 16; when she got there, she was told that her flight had been cancelled. She is becoming increasingly depressed by her continued incarceration.

Antho Nutanva was released from Yarl's Wood on Jan. 15. However, two Congolese women in Yarl's Wood have been in detention for more than seven months. One is H.I.V. positive and does not appear to be receiving adequate treatment. The other nearly collapsed at her last bail hearing when the judge refused to release her — it was so bad the wardens at Yarl's Wood allegedly wrote to the Home Office to complain about the decision and said that if this woman committed suicide it would not be their fault. Both women are extremely depressed, are not eating or sleeping properly, and cry frequently.

Another Congolese woman, Pascaline Mbombo, is now being detained in Yarl's Wood and is in room 147. She is being held there with her two daughters, who are 4 years old and one and a half years old. They were arrested at home in Birmingham along with Pascaline's husband, Jean-Philippe Diatezua Muila. However, her husband, distressed about what was happening, put up some resistance and was taken to a police cell for two nights. He is now in Colnbrook Immigration Removal Center. He has not seen his family for a week. They are all in a state of shock. An attempt has already been made to remove them but their solicitors managed to block it. Both children were born in Britain.

Liz Atherton says the Home Office has failed to adequately address the current situation in Congo and continues to carry out removals:

The Home Office claims that the British Embassy in Kinshasa is not aware of any evidence that unsuccessful asylum seekers face mistreatment from the D.R. Congo authorities on their return. Many Human Rights groups in the U.K. dispute this and are adamant that returned asylum seekers do face mistreatment.

A tribunal is now being prepared to challenge the current D.R. Congo Country Guidance in which the Home Office claims there is no risk on return to failed asylum seekers. They are collecting evidence to be used in the tribunal to prove that returned asylum seekers in fact face imprisonment, extortion, and torture. They have a substantial amount of evidence already, but need more.

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