Swift action by synagogue members brought a last-minute halt to the deportation of a 62-year-old grandmother to the Democratic Republic of Congo last week.
Marie-Jeanne Elumba Ngolo, from Kinshasa, who has been in the UK for nine years, was a regular visitor to the New North London Synagogue’s drop-in centre for asylum-seekers.
But when she was suddenly arrested and told she was being sent back to her homeland, supporters of the centre lobbied the authorities and secured a temporary reprieve.
Mrs Elumba Ngolo’s late husband was the chief of police during the regime of President Mobuto, who was ousted from power in 1997.
Although her son lives in the UK, her own asylum application was rejected in 2003.
“What happens with a lot of failed asylum-seekers is either they go underground and disappear off the radar or they stay in touch by reporting to one of the UK Border Agency centres,” explained Deborah Koder, one of the centre’s co-ordinators. “Marie-Jeanne had been reporting without incident for six years”.
“But the weekend before last she was arrested and put into Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre in Bedford. She was given removal directions to be deported to Congo last Tuesday. We managed to find a solicitor successfully to challenge the removal.
“She was released from detention on Friday night but, to our horror, she has an electronic tag on her leg. She says she feels like dog or an animal being tagged.”
As well as protests from the Jewish community to Immigration Minister Phil Woolas, Sister Sheila Whelan, a nun who volunteers at the centre, galvanised Catholic support.
The Congo is one of the world’s most dangerous countries, with four million believed to have died in wars since 1994 which were triggered by the Rwandan genocide.
“Asylum-seekers from Congo who run away from Europe are perceived to be traitors by the government,” Ms Koder said. “So they are routinely tortured if they are forced home.”
Now Mrs Elumba Ngolo must await the outcome of a judicial review to lodge a new claim for asylum.