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.
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.
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.
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.
The Oxfam shop where he had been volunteering tweeted that Bolamu was due to return to Swansea on Thursday evening.
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.”
Bolamu’s solicitor, Jamie Bell,
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.”