What do YOU think? From today’s Observer:

A report to be published tomorrow by the Institute of Race Relations, a London-based charity, suggests Britain is breaching the Geneva conventions by sending asylum seekers back to conflict zones. It quotes the fate of 13 men flown from the UK who were immediately detained at Kinshasa. [One who] made it back to Britain told the institute they were beaten daily by up to six soldiers [and] that he was raped six times. More below …

Willy Mpasi Mutwadi is praying the British authorities decide not to send him back.

Mutwadi was a clinical biologist at a hospital in Kinshasa. In 2003 he was asked to help the security services to murder leading opposition politicians. He was chosen because he was active in opposition politics and had the means to administer lethal injections and falsify hospital medical records.

‘Fabulous rewards were offered to me, and a great deal of pressure was applied by the security services to accept this commission, but as a Christian and a medical professional I had to refuse,’ he said. ‘I was asked to rethink my decision, and knew that if I remained in Congo I would be killed. I fled immediately to priests who could protect me until arrangements could be made to get me out quickly.

‘The security services killed my brother, Kakesa, when he was unable to give them information regarding my whereabouts.’

Mutwadi was smuggled to the UK, where he immediately claimed asylum, which was rejected. Throughout 2004 the Home Office tried to send him back, only to fail after interventions by politicians and Amnesty International. Now on bail, he is awaiting the outcome of a judicial review of the Home Office’s decision. ‘My return to Congo would result in my immediate death,’ he said.’

What part does changing political situations play?

The British government used to have a policy of not returning asylum seekers to Congo … The Foreign Office website advises against all travel to the area. But in a clear bid to assuage public concerns about asylum seekers, the government has started returning would-be refugees [to] conflict zones thought too dangerous for UK citizens.

‘There was a time when a number of countries were considered no-go areas. But now Somalia, Zimbabwe, Afghanistan and Iraq are not even considered dangerous,’ said Lord Avebury, the Liberal Democrat spokesman on Africa in the Lords.

Home Office figures show that 65 people were returned to Congo from the UK last year, 105 to Zimbabwe, 150 to Somalia, 760 to Iraq and 795 to Afghanistan. Many [were] sent back against their will.

BUT: How sure are governments that “no-go” areas are now safe? And, of what quality is the intelligence used to make these determinations?

Part of the problem stems from a paucity of intelligence. A report by the Immigration Advisory Service questioned the quality of analysis of more than 20 reports produced by the Home Office Country Information and Policy Unit. The UK government decided Somalia was safe on the basis of a report which had to be produced in Kenya because its authors thought the country was too dangerous for them to enter.

Their fears were justified. Abdinassir Abdulatif, a Somali forcibly returned by the Dutch authorities, was murdered last June … The institute [will] argue that, by sending asylum seekers back to war-torn countries, Britain is breaching the Geneva convention which says ‘no state shall expel or return a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, [or] membership of a particular group or political opinion’.

How is the upcoming UK election a factor?

[The] government [is] keen to keep asylum issues off the election agenda and which shows signs of adopting a tougher stance. The Home Office is already drawing up plans to automatically deny refugee status to anyone deemed to have committed a ‘serious crime’ – from car theft to possessing illegal drugs.

The protection of child asylum seekers is a cause for which Angelina Jolie traveled to Washington, D.C. on March 8:

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usChildren fleeing persecution and arriving alone in the United States will now have better access to free legal counsel, thanks to the new National Center for Refugee and Immigrant Children in Washington, D.C.

The centre was launched on Tuesday by UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie, who last year donated $500,000 to the centre and who has been advocating for more than two years on the issue of unaccompanied children seeking asylum who are detained in the US. Reuters Alternet

On the U.N. site, Jolie reports:

Over 6,000 children arrive alone in the United States every year. Some are fleeing persecution, many are fleeing abuse. Some are trafficked to work as prostitutes or in sweatshops. Many are eligible for asylum or other humanitarian status in the United States, but US laws do not give them the legal assistance they need to apply. …

This is a worldwide concern. Here are links to just a few of Amnesty International’s reports:

  • Refugees have rights
  • 2004 Annual Report
  • Italy (Urgent Action): Forcible return/fear for safety/fear of torture to Libya
  • Malaysia: Concerns about planned deportations of hundreds of thousands of migrants
  • Belgium: Round-up and deportation of Slovak Romani asylum-seekers
  • USA: Lost in the labyrinth: detention of asylum-seekers
  • Iraq: Forcible return of refugees and asylum-seekers is contrary to international law (Nov. 2003)

    What should nations do?

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