BBC reporter trails deported asylum seekers to the Congo

As part of a
series of special investigations for BBC World Service programme
Assignment, journalist Jenny Cuffe followed the footsteps of failed
asylum seekers sent back from Europe to the Democratic Republic of
Congo.

She reveals to Zoe Smith how she went about making the programme.

“I’ve been in this job a long time, but I think that this was one of my most difficult assignments.

“I’ve
always wanted to discover what actually happens to asylum seekers once
they are deported. I had been trying to find evidence to confirm
whether or not their lives are endangered by being returned to their
country of origin, but there wasn’t any because nobody seemed to have
done any work following their progress once they are deported.

“I spent four weeks doing preliminary preparation before my trip to Kinshasa.

I
had daily conversations with Congolese people at Harmonsworth Removal
Centre who were waiting to be deported. I gave them my number so they
could get in contact and enable me to find out what really happened to
them. I was waiting to try any lead that presented itself.

“An investigative journalist working in the Congo has a particularly hard time because everyone is so suspicious.

Finding people willing to speak is difficult.

In
the end what came good was a Dutch NGO that has spent more time than
anybody else trying to monitor what happens to returned asylum seekers.
Working clandestinely and through an intermediary they found me two
insiders – one from the secret services and one from the immigration
department.

“The man from the secret services gave testimony that
was extremely useful and is in the programme. He probably tells us more
about what is happening than even the asylum seekers who spoke about
their experiences themselves because he knows what the Government’s
intentions are. European countries say there is no evidence to suggest
that people are singled out because they are asylum seekers. But my
source from the secret services said ‘we are actually targeting asylum
seekers who have been abroad and who we feel have besmirched the name
of our country by talking about the Government and our country’.

“We
reported on one small NGO that receives very little funding from the
European Union to try and monitor people as they arrive at the airport,
but they can’t be there for every flight that arrives.

“If
monitoring is going to be done properly there needs to be a long-term
follow-up project. Until that’s in place I don’t think European
countries can say it’s safe to send people back to a country which is
as unstable and as difficult as the Congo.”

Cuffe’s report goes
out on 8 December at 9.05am on the World Service. It can also be
listened to online at www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/programmes/
assignment.shtml

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