A nurse from the Democratic Republic of Congo has won a reprieve from deportation at the last minute, following his case being made public by the actor Colin Firth and 5 UK bishops.
Colin Firth had expressed his outrage at the deportation of a group of Congolese asylum seekers. A long-term Refugee Council supporter, Firth joined five bishops in denouncing the government’s plans to return 42 people, including 19 children to the Democratic Republic of Congo, where they fear for their lives.
In letters to the Guardian and Independent on Monday, Firth wrote of his particular concern for ‘Pierre’, a former nurse in a Congolese military hospital who was arrested, beaten and thrown into prison after refusing to give powerful injections of morphine to officers arrested after the assassination of President Kabila. Managing to escape after his brother bribed the prison guards, Pierre managed to make his way to the UK in 2002. His first claim for asylum was refused and he has spent the past five years mostly sleeping on friends’ floors and dependent on charity. He was certain that if he returns to the DRC he will be murdered.
As well as arguing that “it is imperative that this particular deportation is stopped,” Firth criticised both the government and British society as a whole for their attitude towards people seeking refuge in the UK.
He said “Refugees are easy targets: people with no vote, no voice and whose plight doesn’t affect us in any way – and whose expulsion sits well with the voters. It seems extraordinary that when it comes to ‘asylum seekers’, ‘immigrants’ or anyone else whose label makes them somehow dismissible, we are content to forfeit our usual standards of decency and humanity. We in this country shouldn’t flatter ourselves that we are so far above the enormities of ethnic cleansing displayed in Rwanda or the Balkans as long as we are prepared to acquiesce in the rooting out and expulsion of desperate, innocent, courageous and talented people, including children and families, in order to send them places where will be killed. It is as irrational as it is cruel.”
Pierre was among 4 Congolese asyulm seekers whose legal appeal against their removal had succeeded at the eleventh hour.
Firth’s decision to speak out was backed by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown in the Independent who asked “Who speaks for disbelieved and despised asylum seekers? Nobody in politics, a handful of religious leaders and journalists and some ordinary Britons of conscience, too few. The national mood is toxic, and even nice liberals now choose to believe that the majority who flee here are scum or cunning terrorists.”
Voicing his own opposition to the planned deportations, the Bishop of Durham, Tom Wright said “At a time when the Home Office has shown itself embarrassingly incapable of dealing with real criminals, whether our own of those from abroad, it chooses to make an apparent show of strength by picking on people who are already vulnerable and disorientated. The normal word for this is ‘bullying’.”
The Independent: Colin Firth makes plea for nurse ‘facing murder’ in Congo
The Independent: We must stop a deportation that is likely to end in murder
The Independent: The brutal reality of our asylum policy
The Guardian: Britain’s shameful deportations of asylum seekers
Letter from Southampton and Winchester Visitors Group to Home Secretary, John Reid.
Press release from the Bishop of Durham