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Joaquin Nzuzi Mbambi is UK general secretary of Abako, the oldest anti-colonial party in the Congo. He escaped the country six years ago after a crackdown on the outlawed group and has been seeking asylum in the UK ever since

December 11, 2008
4 min read

When did you first become politically engaged?

My work with Abako began in 1993. My father had told me about political issues, particularly about the Bakongo people, and I was always very interested. After joining the party I was nominated youth president for my borough, and I taught youngsters about Abako’s politics and campaigning.

What were conditions like for political activity at that time?

Mobutu was in power. He was a dictator and we struggled against his government.

In 1995 the government sent the military to a Bakongo meeting I attended. They killed many people, and the security services were searching for the participants. So my wife and I left the capital, Kinshasa, for my province, Bakongo.

I stayed there until 1997. When Mobutu fled the country I returned to Kinshasa to see the political situation. Laurent Kabila took power and banned political parties. When he died in 2001, his son replaced him. This was bad for political men like me because the country was now governed as a monarchy.

How did you react to this?

I again campaigned against the government, speaking to young people and giving them courage, but our meetings were infiltrated. On 31 December 2001 I was abducted by the military.

After three days in a subterranean prison – where many people had been for years – they put me in a cell, and I was interrogated, beaten and tortured.

How did you get from there to the UK?

Surprisingly, one day soldiers took me away to the house of the officer who had interrogated me. They spoke in my dialect, and said they had spoken with my father and wanted to help. The officer took me to a businessman, who took me to Angola in June 2002. I was given a French passport, and we travelled to London.

What happened when you arrived?

I didn’t know where I was supposed to be going. I passed immigration and the businessman gave me clothes and money.

I went to the immigration centre in Croydon, and sought asylum. After one week in London they sent me to Stoke-on-Trent.

What has been your experience of the asylum process?

My asylum claim was rejected. They said I lacked information about my party, and didn’t believe my escape from prison. It was difficult giving evidence because I was traumatised, and my eyes were damaged from torture. I then had no living support, and had to stay with friends.

My new solicitor in 2003 was also very bad. She said she’d make a new claim, but didn’t use the new evidence I gave her. In 2005 I met a French solicitor at a Congolese meeting. After seeing my file she made a proper fresh claim. The Home Office still have not given me an answer.

What contact have you had with your family since you arrived here?

My wife escaped the DRC in 2005. Earlier that year she had been arrested and our two children were lost. In prison she was raped and badly beaten. She went to Paris and by chance saw one lady from our borough, who told her I was in London. She tried to join me, but at Calais the English border police arrested her and tried to deport her to Congo. She spent 14 days in Sangatte detention centre and was very traumatised, but was eventually accepted in France as a refugee.

I’m hoping to rejoin my wife in Paris, but I’ve had six years here, and have made friends, studied and had political activities here. My case is good, and we want to take the Home Office to the High Court and get a judicial review. If we go to the tribunal, I’m sure we’ll win – if my case wasn’t strong the Home Office would have refused me already.

And in the UK you have continued your work with Abako?

Yes. I can’t stop the work I started in my country. We support a federalist system with autonomy for different regions, but those in power want centralisation. They take our resources and call us separatists that will cause ‘Balkanisation’.

I’m now general secretary of Abako until the next elections. I feel intimidated because we hear the Congolese government is sending agents here to kill activists. But I’m happy to continue – I like this work. One day our generation may pass, but another will come to solve this problem. We can win one day, this is my faith! For the moment I’ll continue.

n Joaquin Nzuzi Mbambi spoke to Andy Bowman and Amanda Sebestyen. The Home Office has now accepted his fresh asylum claim and asked his solicitor to withdraw the judicial review in the High Court. He is currently awaiting the Home Office decision, and if refused again will have the right to go to the immigration court

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