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Asylum Seekers: Democratic Republic of Congo

Volume 689: debated on Thursday 1 March 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

On what evidence they have concluded that asylum seekers returned to the Democratic Republic of Congo will be safe from harm.

My Lords, every asylum claim is considered on its individual merits, in accordance with our international obligations and taking full account of the conditions in the country concerned. Information obtained from a wide range of sources is provided to asylum decision-makers in country information reports, which are published on a regular basis. The latest report on DRC was published on 14 February 2007 and can be accessed on the Home Office website.

My Lords, the Minister and her department—including in the material that it publishes—always make Kinshasa sound like Dorking, in my experience. Have the Minister and her department asked themselves why every individual and body with first-hand experience of Kinshasa and N’Djili airport—and I was frightened there myself when I passed through it, and I am large and male—and who know the DRC, find the mantra-like assurances of the department simply incredible?

Will the Minister check what may be the answer to my question— the evidence given to me that all the assurances on which all the EU countries and the UNHCR base this advice is very probably based on the evidence of a single individual, who gains financially from it, and whose NGO, Voix des Sans-Voix, does not have a presence at N’Djili, although the Home Office regularly says that it does. Is the Minister aware that a country guidance case, listed for 28 March, will hear fresh evidence of ill-treatment, torture and rape of returned refugees, both at the airport and at associated holding centres? Will she say that returns will be ceased until that hearing at the end of March? Will she give an assurance that the safety of those returned this week will be carefully monitored?

My Lords, of course I hear what the right relevant Prelate says about the DRC, and I share with him the concerns in relation to any country that has had difficulties. But I have to tell him that all the reports that we have—and they do not come from just one source—reassert and reinform the information that we have that there is no objective evidence that those returning to the DRC are being specifically targeted for abuse simply because they have sought asylum. The right reverend Prelate knows that that decision was arrived at by the EU Heads of Mission investigation and by all who have entered into this field. But I can certainly assure the right reverend prelate that we are anxious to make sure that the information on which we make the in-country assessments is genuine.

My Lords, is there a memorandum of understanding between our Government and the Government of the DRC? Is the Minister aware that there is a considerable gap between the time when a decision is taken to deport and the time when a person is deported? In such cases, will she ensure that in-country reports prepared by NGOs are taken into account at that stage and that there is some system to monitor what happens to individuals when they are sent back?

My Lords, first, the noble Lord will know that we have a very detailed procedure in relation to appeals. For instance, in relation to all the 38 returnees most recently on a flight, all of them had an opportunity to appeal, 10 took advantage of the judicial review process, and the process was brought to an end. I assure the noble Lord that if any specific allegations in relation to returns are raised with us, they are investigated fully.

My Lords, in view of the very wide concerns so well articulated by the right reverend Prelate, will the Minister further reassure the House by making available to it the detailed assessments made in this particular case?

My Lords, the in-country assessments are already available. They are on the website and can be seen. In relation to the individual cases, they form part of the data in relation to those individual cases. We are taking every step to ensure that the in-country assessments are as robust and real as we can make them.

My Lords, I should like to press my noble friend further on the difference between in-country assessments, which are generalised, and the fate of individuals against whom there may have been particular threats or persecution. I declare an interest: some years ago I was at the Refugee Council, where we tried to follow the fate of people who had been return to the Democratic Republic of Congo, and on one or two occasions we lost track of them. I fully appreciate the Government’s difficulties but is there anything they can do to reassure themselves and us that they can monitor the fate of individuals who have been returned in these difficult circumstances?

My Lords, as my noble friend will know, we have to decide each case on its merits. There is an assessment whether each individual should or should not, could or could not, be returned in safety. That is why we are still granting asylum cases; there have been 45 grants of asylum and 80 of discretionary leave, and those matters will continue to be considered. The fall in applications from the DRC has been 47 per cent. I remind the House that the Democratic Republic of Congo has for the first time in 40 years its own democratic Government, and that 70 per cent of the people there voted for them. We would aspire to have that sort of figure in this country.

My Lords, can the noble Baroness nevertheless confirm that army deserters from Congo who seek asylum face life imprisonment or death? Is the Home Office investigating that?

My Lords, I have no specific information on that matter; I am quite happy to take it back and to investigate what, if anything, we know about it. We are very clear that returns will be looked at individually and the risks explored appropriately.