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Protesters angered by ‘human cargo’ to the Congo

by Rachel Harden

SENIOR church leaders, campaigning groups, and an award-winning actor have joined forces to attack the Government’s asylum policy. On Monday, 38 asylum-seekers were deported back to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

The Bishop of Durham, Dr Tom Wright, who was involved with a case in Stockton-on-Tees, said it was deplorable how the asylum-seekers had been treated. Speaking on Tuesday, he said he was still unsure whether all the asylum-seekers from Stockton had been deported, since four people had been let off the plane at the last minute. In his view, their treatment, which included dawn raids, had been deplorable.

“The point is that many who were sent back, mostly women and children, have made their homes in this country. We have been informed that, instead of being sent back to an agreed airport in the Congo, another one was chosen which was heavily guarded. It is scary to think what may have happened to them.

“These are law-abiding citizens who looked for asylum in this country with good reason. We may be celebrating the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade, but here we are shipping Africans as human cargo.”

On Monday, an Early Day Motion was put forward to stop the deportations, which were originally scheduled on a flight from Gatwick but changed at the last minute to Stansted.

A spokesman for the Bishop of Ripon & Leeds, the Rt Revd John Packer, said that he was very disappointed that a campaign to stop a Congolese woman, Aseng, and her children being deported from Leeds had failed. She and her family had been living in the city for four years.

Bishop Packer had written to the Home Office Minister Baroness Scotland about the case. He said that Aseng was terrified about being forced to return because of her ethnicity and the ongoing violence in the country.

In the past ten years, an estimated four million people have died from war-related causes, and more than two million are refugees within their own country.

The Bishop of Winchester, the Rt Revd Michael Scott-Joynt, has also been campaigning on behalf of asylum-seekers within his diocese, which is linked with the DRC.

Shirley Firth, mother of the actor Colin Firth, and member of the Winchester and Southampton Visitors Group, said: “Of course we are thrilled that Pierre, one young man we had been campaigning for, has been allowed a review, but what about the others?”

Colin Firth wrote to The Independent about Pierre, a nurse who was imprisoned after refusing to give large doses of morphine to senior officials who had been arrested after the President’s murder. His brother bribed guards, and Pierre escaped to the UK in 2002.

On Wednesday, the Home Office confirmed that 38 people had “successfully been deported” to the DRC, but said it could not comment on individual cases.

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