38 people came to the Annual General Meeting (AGM) of SYMAAG on May 1st in Sheffield. The meeting reviewed SYMAAG’s work over the last year, planned for the next and held elections for positions on the Executive Committee and Chair, Vice Chair, Secretary and Treasurer. But, before that…
“Unsafe Return” to Democratic Republic of Congo
Our guest speaker was Catherine Ramos from the “Justice First” group, a charity based in the Tees Valley in north east England . Catherine talked about what inspired her to write the report “Unsafe Return” about what happened to 17 Congolese asylum seekers who were deported to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in 2009. Catherine went to the DRC to report what happened to these 17 people, who the Home Office claimed would not face persecution when they were forcibly deported.
Catherine found that there were was a pattern of arrests, described by Amnesty International as “systematic”. All 17 people were imprisoned, (including young children and a baby) and physical abuse was common during imprisonment. They received no support from the British Embassy in the DRC, despite requests. A Congolese immigration officer confirmed that the Home Office had sent the names of the deportees to them in advance and that they had been passed on to the Congolese security service, including those of “low level” activists.
On her return to the UK Catherine wrote the report “Unsafe Return”, accompanied by documentary and video evidence and has used it to:
- Demand an investigation into why these 17 people were deported by the Home Office when they were clearly at risk of persecution. Catherine told us that the Home Office regarded her evidence as “inconvenient”
- Inform UKBA’s Country of Origin Information (COIs) reports (which are supposed to guide asylum decison-making). Information from “Unsafe Return” was now used in the 2012 DRC COI report
- Highlight the abuse that many people experienced as a result of taking part in the Assisted Voluntary Returns programme
- Protest at the abuse that many of the 17 people received while they were in detention centres in the UK and in the process of deportation
There were many questions for Catherine, including from Congolese members of the audience. She explained that she had only become aware of the experience of asylum seekers in the UK through meeting people as neighbours, friends and fellow church goers; that she could never have imagined herself going to the DRC, writing the report and now lobbying UK Government ministers. Now that she’d seen something of the life of asylum seekers in the UK and post-deportation there was clearly no going back for her.
Catherine urged us to read and distribute the “Unsafe Return” report and encouraged us to promote the accompanying petition which calls for “The suspension of removals until there has been a full inquiry into the safety of failed asylum seekers on return, in order to prevent future ill-treatment of vulnerable Congolese asylum seekers”.
SYMAAG Chair, David Price introduced the 2011-12 Annual Report looking at our work in the context of an ever more restrictive and harsh asylum system in the UK. He noted the expansion in the volume and range of SYMAAG’s work since our formation 5 years ago and pointed to SYMAAG’s role regionally and nationally, as well as in South Yorkshire.
In the discussion that followed we looked towards continuing our high-profile work in opposing the G4S-led privatisation of asylum housing and other services; finding points of common interest and solidarity between migrants and “host” communities; promoting region-wide campaigning and increasing the involvement of women in SYMAAG.
In the elections for Executive Committee and officers, the numbers and proportions of migrants and women both increased.
You can download the symaagannualreport2011-12
Sign the Unsafe Returns petition here
Read more about the Unsafe Return report here