Author: Diane Taylor
A Congolese asylum seeker who has been tortured by his government is facing forced removal from the UK to his home country on Christmas Day.
Otis Bolamu, 38, was imprisoned and tortured by government agents in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as a result of his opposition to the government of Joseph Kabila.
Elections have been repeatedly delayed and violence has increased in the DRC amid opposition protests and government crackdowns. According to Amnesty International, the human rights situation in the country has further deteriorated in recent months.
Bolamu had been living in Home Office accommodation in Swansea and volunteering at an Oxfam shop. He was seized in a dawn raid at about 4am on last Thursday and, after first being held in Bridgend, was taken to Brook House immigration removal centre near Gatwick. Supporters have launched a petition to try to prevent his removal and are calling for him to be released in time to celebrate Christmas with his friends and members of his church in Swansea.
“Let’s get Otis home for Christmas. He is a fine, upstanding member of the community,” said the petition organisers.
Speaking from the detention centre, Bolamu told the Guardian he was crying with fear at the prospect of being forcibly removed to the DRC.
He said: “My country is too dangerous. I will be punished by my government if I am returned home because I oppose what this government is doing. I am active in one of the main Congolese opposition groups here – Apareco. My opposition to the government will put me at great risk if I am returned to Congo by the Home Office.”
Bolamu said he was imprisoned for nine days in the DRC but escaped when a friend of his father’s paid a bribe to the military. He was smuggled out of the country and arrived in the UK in October last year and claimed asylum the day he arrived.
He added: “I haven’t managed to eat anything much since I was arrested. I have never in my life experienced anything like the dawn raid. I heard a beating on my door and when I opened it there were two police officers and two immigration officials there. I was first taken to Brigend police custody suite and now I’m in Brook House. I hope that something can be done to prevent me being sent back to Congo.”
Bolamu’s local MP, Labour’s Carolyn Harris, said she had tried to get in touch with the Home Office but had failed to reach either ministers or officials so far.
“This arrest has really come as a shock,” she said. “I have concerns about the way this has been done – an arrest at 4am under the cover of darkness. I’m slightly suspicious that this is being done at Christmas when everything is closed and people are not checking their emails.”
Phil Broadhurst, manager of the Oxfam book shop, described Bolamu as a “lovely guy” and said he had also volunteered at the Hay literary festival.
A Home Office spokesperson 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.”
The spokesperson reiterated that the Home Office did not comment on individual cases.
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