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Protesters Gather in London to Stop Expulsion of DRC Refugees

About 100 protesters gathered in London on Friday to call on the British government to stop the expulsion of Congolese refugees back to the Democratic Republic of Congo. Britain's High Court judges are set to decide the fate of thousands of asylum-seekers living in the UK as they consider whether the war-torn DRC is safe. VOA's Mandy Clark reports from London.

A silent, shuffling protest - 100 people dressed in black, like a funeral procession, mourning the millions who have died in the fighting in the DRC. They walked towards 10 Downing Street, Prime Minister Gordon Brown's official residence, to hand deliver a petition.

Nelson Muambela said 4,000 people have already signed it.
"The petition is to ask Gordon Brown and the British government to be more involved, to put more pressure on the Congolese government, to do more for the peace," he said.

Buka Mwanza, who helped organize the protest, said he cannot understand why Britain would even consider sending Congolese refugees back to a war zone.

"How can you return them to a country that is at war, and look what is happening there?" Mwanza asked. "I mean some health organizations have estimated that 75 percent of the rapes that happen in the world, happen in Congo. There is atrocious human rights violations happening there, and you plan on sending someone back to that? It's preposterous."

It's estimated there are 4,000 to 5,000 Congolese in Britain whose asylum claims have been rejected.

Eastern Congo has been in turmoil since the genocide in neighboring Rwanda in 1994 spilled over into Congo. Unrest then spread into civil war in Congo with a number of armed groups vying for power and drawing in neighboring countries. That war ended in 2003, but tensions among some armed groups remain and fighting has again flared in recent weeks.

Britain's Foreign office is currently advising against all travel to eastern and northeastern Congo and all but essential trips to the rest of the country, because of "continued insecurity and lawlessness".

Yet, the Home Office said there is "no real risk of ill treatment" to failed asylum-seekers outside the eastern region.

Innocent Empi disagreed. He is a Congolese refugee who came to Britain in 2005. He helped compile evidence for lawyers representing the refugees. "We have evidence of failed asylum seekers who were sent back to the Congo and who have been arrested, detained and many of them have disappeared," he said.

The High Court is expected to make its decision in the next 3 to 4 weeks. Innocent Empi said he has hope. "I personally am hopeful because I trust the evidence provided. It would be unbelievable for the court to say it is safe to Congolese back to Kinshasa," he said.

The other protesters say that even refugee status would not be enough. Britain, they say, must step up its commitment to the Congo.