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UK frees asylum seeker facing deportation to DRC UK frees asylum seeker facing deportation to DRC
(35 minutes later)
An asylum seeker who was due to be deported from the UK at Christmas has been released from detention following a petition to stop him being sent back to the Democratic Republic of Congo. A Congolese asylum seeker who was due to be removed from the UK on Christmas Day has been released from detention, a decision that has been welcomed by the community in Swansea that is supporting him.
Otis Bolamu, 38, says he fled his home country for his own safety after being labelled a spy for an opposition political party, before settling in Swansea to volunteer at an Oxfam shop. Otis Bolamu, 38, a survivor of torture in his home country, is a keen churchgoer as well as a volunteer at his local Oxfam bookshop, and many members of the community, alongside Welsh assembly members and MPs, joined together to protest about his detention and call for his release.
The Congolese man was taken from his bed by immigration officers in the early hours of 19 December and told he would remain at a detention centre in Gatwick before being deported back home. Bolamu worked for the Congolese electoral commission, which is under scrutiny after claims of fraud during recent elections. He said he gave information about the alleged fraud to opposition politicians and was then suspected of spying for the opposition, which placed him in “severe danger”.
But following an outcry from friends, local MPs, and a petition signed by more than 12,000 people, Bolamu has been allowed to return to Swansea to allow his case to be reconsidered. He was detained by the Home Office on 19 December and told he was due to be removed from the UK. But on Thursday he was released.
The Oxfam shop where he had been volunteering tweeted that Bolamu was due to return to Swansea on Thursday evening. After his release, Bolamu said: “I’m so happy and excited to be out of detention. After my experience in Congo it was terrible to be locked up there and not to be able to see my friends. Although I’ve now been released I’m not free yet and won’t be free until I have won my case and know my life can be safe at last. I will be continuing to work hard on my case and continuing to volunteer in the Oxfam bookshop. I went back there this morning.”
It said: “He has not got refugee status yet so the campaign continues, but today we celebrate and just be grateful to have him home.” According to Amnesty International, the human rights situation in the country has further deteriorated in recent months.
Bolamu’s solicitor, Jamie Bell, Bolamu said he was imprisoned for nine days in the DRC but escaped when a friend of his father paid a bribe to the military. He was smuggled out of the country and arrived in the UK in October 2017 and claimed asylum the day he arrived.
said: “We are delighted that Otis returned home yesterday after his release from detention. Otis has received amazing support from so many in the Swansea community and this gave him hope when he was feeling lost. Phil Broadhurst, the manager of the Oxfam bookshop, described Bolamu as a “lovely guy” and welcomed his release. “His detention was wrong on so many different levels,” he said.
“The petitions, the protests and the political support from Welsh politicians made a real difference in stopping this injustice from happening. We now look forward to continuing to fight for Otis’s right to stay in the UK as a refugee and will be working hard to prove his claim.” Bolamu’s solicitor, Jamie Bell of Duncan Lewis Solicitors, said he was working on further submissions in the case in the hope of securing refugee status for him. The Home Office refused one set of further submissions on 4 January but subsequently released him from detention.
The decision to detain and deport Bolamu over Christmas was criticised after claims Home Office staff and solicitors were unavailable until the new year to deal with his fresh appeal for refugee status. Bell said: “We are delighted that Otis returned home after his release from detention. He has received amazing support from so many in the Swansea community and this gave him hope when he was feeling lost. We now look forward to continue to fight for Otis’s right to stay in the UK as a refugee and will be working hard to prove his claim.”
Bolamu told friends he used to work for the DRC government and fled to the UK in October 2017 after campaigning for democracy and being warned that he was suspected of spying for the government opposition. A Home Office spokeswoman said: “The UK has a proud history of granting asylum to those who need our protection. All asylum claims lodged in the UK are carefully considered on their individual merits against a background of relevant case law and up-to-date country information.”
After arriving in Swansea, Bolamu volunteered at last year’s Hay festival and three to four times a week at the Oxfam shop in Castle Street, but was refused leave to remain in August following an appeal.
His release from detention on Thursday coincided with the surprise election of Felix Tshisekedi as the DRC’s new president.
His rival opposition candidate, Martin Fayulu, has denounced the result as fraudulent, saying the outgoing president, Joseph Kabila, made a backroom deal with Tshisekedi, raising fears that protests could lead to more violence.
A Home Office spokesman said: “The UK has a proud history of granting asylum to those who need our protection. All asylum claims lodged in the UK are carefully considered on their individual merits against a background of relevant case law and up-to-date country information.”
Immigration and asylumImmigration and asylum
Democratic Republic of the CongoDemocratic Republic of the Congo
AfricaAfrica
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