A man who has lived in the UK since childhood is facing imminent deportation to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a country with one of the worst human rights records in the world.
Habib Bazaboko, a stonemason, fled to the UK at the age of 11 after his father was murdered in his home country. He has previous convictions, including for grievous bodily harm, but has not committed any crime for nine years.
Speaking from Colnbrook immigration removal centre, where the Home Office detained him two weeks ago, he told the Guardian the prospect of returning to the DRC had him fearing for his life.
“I have no family in [the] DRC, I don’t speak the language, my life is here in the UK. I don’t know why they are forcing me to go back there. I’m so scared of what will happen to me I haven’t been able to sleep.”
He has been booked on to a Kenya Airways flight from Heathrow at 5.55pm on Saturday.
The Home Office removes very few people to the DRC – there were just 46 forced removals in the past three years. But recently there has been an increase in attempts; this is at least the third case in just over a week where the Home Office has tried to deport someone to the country.
Evidence of torture in the DRC has been widely documented. The Human Rights Watch 2019 world report noted serious human rights violations against opposition supporters, peaceful protesters and human rights activists. The charity Freedom from Torture has documented multiple accounts of torture in the DRC, including a high incidence of rape.
Home Office officials have been trying to persuade their Foreign Office (FCO) colleagues to say publicly that it is safe to return people to the DRC. Internal emails obtained by the human rights organisation Justice First, and seen by the Guardian, show Home Office officials requesting that their British embassy colleagues in Kinshasa issue a statement saying they have no information that people are being persecuted after returning from the UK to the DRC.
FCO officials replied that they did not monitor the treatment of returnees and did not have the resources to do so. They said that to investigate this properly they would need to speak to key officials in the DRC, at the airport in Kinshasa, other embassies, UNHCR, other human rights organisations and returnees, but that they were unable to do this.
Catherine Ramos, from Justice First, obtained the emails disclosed in a freedom of information response and has published a dossier of evidence including references to the emails and 18 cases where people have been deported from the UK to the DRC and suffered ill-treatment including imprisonment, torture and disappearance.
One refugee told the Guardian she had claimed asylum in the UK in 2004 after her husband disappeared and she received a warning that she needed to get out of the DRC fast before something bad happened to her.
The Home Office rejected her asylum claim and removed her to the DRC. She was arrested, imprisoned and subsequently repeatedly raped after returning to the country. She managed to escape back to the UK while pregnant as a result of one of the rapes and was finally granted two and a half years’ leave to remain. That leave is about to run out and she is terrified that, like Bazaboko, she too will be forcibly removed to the DRC for a second time.
“I’m so scared about what’s going to happen to me,” she said. “I have a recurring nightmare that I’m being sent back to Congo. Every time I look at my son who was conceived through rape in Congo I remember what happened to me.”