Home Affairs CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Catherine Ramos (ASY 06)

Monitoring of Congolese Asylum Seekers Refouled to Drc

This evidence is submitted by Catherine Ramos BA MCIL RPSI, a trustee of the charity Justice First (Reg. Charity No. 1116388) and the author of the report, ‘Unsafe Return, which documents the refoulement of refused asylum seekers to the Democratic Republic of the Congo between 2006 and 2011. Monitoring of returns has continued to date. I travelled to the Democratic Republic of the Congo in September 2011 to interview and film returnees and to speak to human rights activists, a barrister and a Congolese official before publishing Unsafe Return in November 2011. I am willing to give oral evidence to, and answer questions from, the Home Affairs Select Committee regarding the details of evidence referred to in this summary.

This evidence aims to support the findings of “Unsafe Return”, demonstrating that the conclusions of Country Policy Bulletin—DRC (November 2012) are flawed and aspects of the Fact Finding Mission (FFM) information are misrepresented in the Country Policy Bulletin (CPB). It should not be used in determining asylum applications as it could lead to applicants being returned to torture and inhuman treatment.

Chronology of reports referred to in this summary

March 17 2010 Dari Taylor MP gives a copy of ‘Wake up a Devil in the Dark’ (WDD), compiled by Catherine Ramos, to junior Home Office Minister, Meg Hillier. This is a compilation of e mails and statements from Congolese refused asylum seekers and their support networks in the UK and the late Frank Cook, MP, regarding post return imprisonment and ill treatment.

November 24 2011Unsafe Return’ is published. It documents the post return imprisonment and ill treatment of Congolese refused asylum seekers and their children. DVD and transcripts of interviews are available to the committee. 100% of the clients of Justice First were unsafe post return, suffering ill treatment at the hands of the authorities. This included nine children, six of whom were imprisoned with or separately to their mothers.

March 2012 Country of Origin Report updated. This indicates that evidence of post return ill treatment had been available in 2009 and 2011 but there had been no update of COIR.

May 22 2012 I attended a meeting with Minister for Immigration, Damian Green, at which representatives of UKBA confirmed that a fact finding mission would be sent to DRC and that Ms. Amanda Wood from the Country of Origin Information Service would form part of this delegation. The ‘Minister’s official’ indicated to MPs Mary Glindon and Alex Cunningham, also present at the meeting, that the ‘Unsafe Return’ report was to be used as a basis to ‘challenge’ the DRC authorities.

June 2012 A UKBA and FCO FFM delegation carries out interviews in Kinshasa regarding treatment of returnees. The Congolese authorities are given abbreviated Terms of Reference and are not questioned about treatment of returnees. (FFM report Page 4, xi)

September 2012 A FFM report is made available to legal representatives in the UK but is not available on the UKBA website.

November 2012 The FFM report is published. The Country Policy Bulletin on DRC is published as a response to ‘Unsafe Return’.

I consider that the Fact Finding Mission report has omissions and that the resulting Country Policy Bulletin contains errors and omissions and cannot be considered a response to ‘Unsafe Return’. Unsafe Return’ finds that DRC refused asylum seekers suffered post return imprisonment and ill treatment. If the Congolese authorities were not questioned about treatment of returnees, was ‘Unsafe Return’ used to challenge the DRC authorities, as stated to Mary Glindon MP and Alex Cunningham MP? CPB Section 15 states that UKBA did not carry out investigations into the specific cases recorded in ‘Unsafe Return’. UKBA alleges it is not able to verify the identity of returnees. This is not borne out by the facts.

1. Anonymity

At 5.2.6 of the Country Policy Bulletin (CPB) it is stated that, as the names of individuals making allegations of ill treatment in ‘Unsafe Return’ were not given to UKBA, the latter can only ‘reach conclusions on the allegations contained within the report based on evidence before it.’ At 15.2 (CPB) it is stated that, ‘As the testimonies are anonymous, there was no investigation into specific cases.’ I maintain that the UKBA does have the means to identify returnees from Tees Valley and International Organisation for Migration (IOM) returnees. Furthermore, the British Embassy in Kinshasa checked in prisons for at least four ‘Unsafe Return’ returnees. Names were, therefore, in the possession of the FCO. The Embassy looked for one returnee on the day before his arrest. He was, consequently, not found in prison. At 6.2.3(CPB) it is stated that ‘nor have these issues been escalated to the UN’s attention.’ . The office of the UN Rapporteur on Torture, Professor Juan Mendez, is in possession of the names of seven returnees documented in ‘Unsafe Returnand [xxx].

2. Incidences of ill treatment wrongly recorded in the Country Policy Bulletin

Two cases of ill treatment of returnees in 2008 and 2010 and ill treatment of two Schengen returnees in 2009 and 2010 are cited at CPB 9.4. (Source: Oeuvres Sociales pour le Développement—OSD). At 4.07 a, b, c, the FFM report stated clearly that the 2008/2010 returnees were from the UK. The CPB fails to mention the country. There were four Schengen cases cited in the FFM report, not two.

3. UNJHRO evidence omitted from the FFM report.

The e mail sent from the UN Joint Human Rights Office to the FFM delegates who had visited the Kinshasa office is not referred to in the FFM report. I was e mailed the relevant paragraph which referred to the General Administrator of the National Intelligence Agency’s (ANR) confirmation that one UK returnee from 8th June 2012 was found to be not Congolese. He had been detained and deported the following day. This contradicts information from the British Embassy official (migration) in the FFM report at Para. 4.10, information passed on from the FCO to Minister for Immigration, Damian Green. Rob Whiteman, Chief Executive of UKBA, wrote to Alex Cunningham MP; ‘none of those returned on 8 June were detained on arrival in the Democratic Republic of Congo.’(CTS REF: M2174/12, HO Ref: A1340962) The British Embassy official refers to overseeing their transit through N’djili airport and passage through the documentation process over a two hour period after the plane landed. The official gave 100 dollars to each man. This is denied by one returnee and the father of a second returnee who allege arrest.

4. Allegation of arrest on 8 June 2012

A letter from Detention Action stating that [xxx], a June 8 returnee, was not being allowed to leave N’djili airport is attached with this summary. [xxx]. I informed Alex Cunningham MP by e mail on 29th June [xxx] that one of the five returnees imprisoned with him was not Congolese. This fact was confirmed on 10th July in the e- mail from UNJHRO. At least two of the 8 June returnees had committed crimes in the UK. [xxx] The DRC Ambassador in London in a letter to the Rt. Hon. Mary Glindon MP states that such returnees will be detained for a period of time whilst clarification is carried out by the Congolese Justice System.

5. Policy not being adhered to

Mr. David Becker of UKBA was asked to confirm the aforementioned deportation. He stated that a returnee whose nationality is not accepted by the receiving country should be brought back to the UK. It would appear that in DRC the policy was not observed. In 2010 a DRC national was removed to Republic of Congo. He was then escorted to DRC but travelled on alone from Kinshasa, without documents, to Lubumbashi, in Eastern Congo. A bribe was paid by a British citizen to secure his release from the airport, as the returnee, allegedly, had only a letter from the Home Office. A similar case is referred to in the FFM report. Correspondence from the British Embassy to UKBA in 2009 appears to have no reference number.

6. Monitoring system

The UN Joint Human Rights Office in Kinshasa does not monitor returns of refused asylum seekers. Discussions between the FFM delegation and the UNJHRO about setting up a system to monitor returns and reintegration are not referred to in the FFM report. UNJHRO had informed me in a phone call and by e mail that UNJHRO staff had indicated to the UK delegation that the office could not monitor returns and had not identified an NGO which would be able to carry out monitoring due to the cost of doing so. Mr. Alex Cunningham MP was informed by UKBA that I was mistaken about discussions relating to a monitoring system. The Country Policy Bulletin states at Para. 13.1 that the UK is under no obligation to monitor returnees. This ignores the UK’s responsibility not to return people to countries where they will be tortured.

7. Amnesty International—Country Policy Bulletin 7.1.1 and 7.2.2

Neither Amnesty International nor Human Rights Watch monitors returns to DRC. AI does not have the resources to investigate allegations of ill treatment. AI researchers state that the fact they ‘do not document detention’ does not mean that ‘detention does not take place’ (CPB 7.1.5). AI refers to the detention of a S. African returnee in CPB 7.1.5, yet does not refer to the two interviews with Unsafe Return returnees in 2009 that it holds on file. To conclude that AI has no evidence that returnees are subject to detention/mistreatment is misleading. It has not carried out its own research but has been provided with evidence in Unsafe Return which the DRC researcher found to be credible. In April 2012 DRC researcher Theo Boutruche stated in a minuted phone conference with Peter Sagar, Regional Representative of AIUK in the North East and Yorkshire Region, and Catherine Ramos that all information relating to DRC should be re-assessed due to the level of pre and post electoral violence. In 2012 Motion A1 was unanimously passed at the Annual General Meeting of Amnesty UK. It requested that additional resources be invested into assessing the risk to refused asylum seekers removed to DRC.

8. UNHCR—Unsafe Return returnee granted refugee status by UNHCR

In April 2012 an ‘Unsafe Return’ returnee, RAS2, was granted refugee status by UNHCR. A letter from the NGO AMERA-UK is attached. It states it is of the opinion that the UK authorities made a ‘serious error’ in returning RAS2 and her children to DRC. In June 2012 I ascertained from UNHCR—London that there was no system in place for this information regarding the torture of a returnee to DRC and the grant of status to be passed from it to the Home Office. Also, UNHCR London does not share information with UNHCR—Egypt, so would not have been informed of the grant of refugee status nor of the ill treatment of RAS2, even though they had held a file on her since 2010.

9. CPB—Torture in DRC prisons

At Para. 11.4 the CPB states that, according to the UN there were ‘less cases of torture or ill treatment in Kinshasa’s prisons’ and Conclusion 11.7 refers to the ‘very poor general conditions within DRC prisons’. Yet a March 2013 report by the UN Joint Human Rights Office states that in 2012 deaths in prisons in DRC doubled and out of 154 deaths 24 were as a result of torture.

10. British Embassy evidence in FFM

A British Embassy official (Migration) stated that there were no enforced returns from the UK in 2011 (FFM 1.09). UKBA data in CPB at 12.2.4 indicates there were 25 asylum removals of which Unsafe Return returnee RAS 17 was an enforced removal (UR Page 18). The British Embassy states that until 2012 there were no UK returns for three years (FFM 1.09). It is acknowledged by UKBA and the UK judiciary that extortion takes place at N’djili airport and it can continue outside the airport building. The British Embassy alleges an official gave 100 dollars to five returnees on 8th June 2012. This would have put returnees ‘at risk’. RAS 2 was given 100 dollars by UK escorts for her transport from N’djili airport. She had been removed from the UK in a wheelchair. The money was taken from her during her detention in an office at the airport (Unsafe Return Page 28).

The human rights official stated the DRC regime has no ‘problem with or any particular standpoint on Congolese nationals who apply for asylum in the UK or other parts of Western Europe.’ This is contradicted by NGOs and the Congolese TV broadcast, Lingala Facile, in March 2012 during which it is stated the Belgian returnees shown will be imprisoned in Makala prison and ill treated.

11. Monitoring of mobile phones

‘Unsafe Return’ states on Page 11 that returnees believed phones were tapped and this was further emphasised in an email from a DRC contact of Mothers’ Union. The FFM report refers to a MONUSCO and ASADHO report which records that mobile phones are tapped and National Intelligence Agency (ANR) officers are placed in VODACOM.

12. Operation Orbit

For its own operational reasons DRC carries out interviews in UK Immigration removal centres, this is called Operation Orbit. A Freedom of Information request found that the cost of flights for DRC Immigration and Foreign Affairs officials is paid for by UKBA. It is believed that accommodation and a per diem are also paid. Operation Orbit is referred to in the FFM. The FFM also refers to code 32 which will be used to identify a certain category of returnee who will be given no mercy.

Based on the above and on further detailed evidence it is maintained that conclusions in the Country Policy Bulletin should not be relied on when determining asylum applications. The findings of Unsafe Return are corroborated by credible Congolese NGOs. The British Embassy cannot be considered to be one of the ‘broad spectrum of informed sources’ which could provide ‘accurate, relevant, balanced, impartial and up to date information’ (FFM P. 3) in order to provide a response to ‘Unsafe Return’ and inform a Country Policy Bulletin.

Unsafe Return

Executive summary of main report

‘Unsafe Return’ documents the post return experience of 17 Congolese men and women who were forcibly removed to DRCongo from the UK between 2006 and 2011. Eleven of these were clients of Justice First (www.justicefirst.org.uk ), a charity working with refused asylum seekers in the Tees Valley. Nine children were removed to the DRC with their parents or with their mother.

The document was written to provide evidence to the government that DRC is not a safe country to return asylum seekers to, and to request the Government to review its decision from the Country of Origin Information Report for DRC (2009), that it was safe for them. There is no monitoring mechanism in place to test the UKBA hypothesis that it is safe for rejected asylum seekers to be returned to the DRC. Every effort has been made, as is documented in the report, to show that all the evidence is credible.

A visit was made to DRC in 2011 by the author of the report to verify the current situation of the returnees still living there. At least six returnees had fled the country and others were found to be still living in hiding, fearful of re-arrest and unable to live with their families because of threats. Those returned consistently reported being punished in the DRC as they had spoken out in this country about having been ill-treated and the lack of human rights in the DRC, thereby betraying their country and the President.

A Congolese Immigration official was interviewed in 2011. He explained that, when UK Immigration passed on the names of those to be removed, the files in the possession of the Immigration authorities were studied. If the asylum seeker were deemed to be a problem to the state, the secret services would be alerted and the asylum seeker imprisoned and worse. This is described on page 33

This report aims to demonstrate the need for:

  • A review of the UKBA assessment that it is safe to remove failed asylum seekers to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
  • A system to monitor the post return experience of Congolese returnees to be established in order to inform policy.
  • Steps to be taken to ensure documents relating to asylum applications in the UK are not given to the Congolese authorities.
  • First hand evidence collated by UK civil society groups to be taken into consideration when assessing safety on return.
  • A wider range of NGOs and INGOs to be consulted when drawing up Country of Origin Reports on DRC and for the latter to be regularly updated.
  • British Embassy assessments to be subjected to more rigorous scrutiny given that, in the past, they have proved inaccurate.

The main issues of concern based on the findings of the report are on page 14—16

The summary of documented human rights violations are on page 16—17

There are details of the appalling treatment of returnees throughout the document but particularly on pages 18—20.

Of the 15 that were traced, 15 were arrested at the airport; 2 arrested after leaving the airport building and transferred to Kin Mazière prison; 1 was arrested after leaving the British Embassy in Kinshasa; 3 were arrested at home; 1 was threatened with death in Tolérance Zero by officers; 4 were threatened at the airport.

Congolese human rights activists and a lawyer confirmed that detainees are not given access to lawyers during their imprisonment. Returnees reported the following ill treatment in prison:

One was handcuffed, blindfolded and severely beaten; 6 were severely beaten; 2 were given electric shock treatment; 2 of the men were sexually abused; 2 of the women were raped; 2 of the women received slaps and blows with hand/fist.

Experiences of the children are on pages 20—22.

Inhuman and degrading treatment of the returnees, and how they are interrogated on return is detailed from pages 22 to 27, followed by issues around extortion and ransom on page 28.

Page 29—32 documents contradictory messages from Government.

Conclusions based on the evidence gathered are on page 34.


  • That Country of Origin Information be updated to reflect the findings of this report.
  • That, until there is a review of the policy that it is safe to return people to the DRC, no further removals should be carried out.
  • That until the hypothesis of safe return can be tested through an effective monitoring system, people should not be removed to DRC.
  • That, as recommended by the Independent Asylum Commission, UKBA and the FCO begin a meaningful dialogue with UK civil society groups and individuals who have remained in contact with those refouled to the DRC.
  • Steps be taken to ensure that no document relating to a returnee’s asylum claim be given to Congolese authorities.
  • That, based on the experience with the International Organisation for Migration, more robust procedures be put in place to ensure that UKBA partner organisations do not facilitate voluntary returns without a verifiable reassurance of safe passage and without a functioning network on the ground to follow up the well being of returnees.
  • That any investigation carried out by FCO or UKBA be done discreetly, so as not to identify those who have, courageously, given testimony for this report and not to place them at further risk.

Catherine Ramos

April 2013

Prepared 11th October 2013