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Save Otis Bolamu from Imminent Deportation to the DRC- an almost good news story!

Many of us met Otis when he volunteered at Hay festival as a steward. He did his duties well and endeared himself to many who met him. He has integrated well into Swansea and is a popular volunteer at the Oxfam bookshop.
 We learnt of his detention in a dawn raid on 20th December when we attended the UID party  in Swansea and he was not there. Subsequently we learnt of a threat to deport him on Christmas day to the Democratic Republic of Congo which is more than usually unstable as there are impending elections. As the outrage and distress started to mount in social media we started a petition  on Saturday  22nd December
Maria our Twitter lead alerted everyone she could about the plight and after discussion  with people at the Oxfam bookshop [ Castle street Arts] and others in Swansea as well as many locals launched the petition on Saturday evening. By Monday morning 24th December over 5000 people has signed with some very supportive comments. The help we received from Peter Florence of Hay Festival was invaluable and his supportive comments and concern guided us. Undoubtedly the best decision Otis made this year was to spend 5 days volunteering in Hay as the support from Peter’s extensive and influential address book was undoubtedly a critical success factor.  Over the last two days when we had hoped to be spending time with our families we were buoyed by the outpouring of goodwill  from so many people including our MP Chris Davies, Jesse Norman MP, Kirsty Williams AM, Archbishop of Wales John Davies and the many friends that Otis has in  our area and Swansea.
 Attached below is the letter we sent to the Home Secretary and the good news received mid afternoon today  24/12 is that Otis is not being deported tomorrow and we hope will have time to prepare a successful claim to remain.
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Letter we sent with Petition
Dear Mr Javid,
please see the enclosed letter sent on behalf of over 5000 people
Please, prevent the Deportation of Otis Bolamu who is currently detained in Brook House Gatwick
We are a group of ordinary citizens involved in the Hay, Brecon and Talgarth Support for Refugees Group. We are writing to ask you to use your powers as Home Secretary to put on hold the deportation of our friend, Otis Bolamu, to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, until his appeal can be heard when his solicitor returns after the holidays.  This letter is supported by over 5000 people (and rising) who have signed this petition.
  Here are some facts in support of our appeal.
1). There is extensive evidence that Otis will be in danger if he is returned to the DRC. He   has a background of political activism and was detained in 2017 in Bandundu for speaking out about the radicalisation and enrolment of children and young people by several political groups, including his own.  He escaped from detention in the DRC  in 2017 with support from friends and colleagues and claimed asylum in the UK and had his first substantive interview in January 2018.
As you know, elections in the DRC have been postponed and are now scheduled for December 30th.  The political situation in the DRC is highly volatile and there are widespread reports of mounting risks to public safety as election day approaches. The USA and the UK have ordered all non-essential staff to leave the country and  the UK Government is currently advising against travel to most regions of the Congo due to civil and military unrest  We have grave concerns for Otis’s safety in these circumstances especially given his track record of political activism.  Deporting him now will place him directly into harm’s way.
2.) Since arrival in the UK, Otis has become a well-loved and valued member of his local community in Swansea. He volunteers at a local Oxfam shop and at the Hay Festival.  He has attended ESOL classes and improved his English and his teachers all speak very highly of him.  He is a devout, observant Christian and a participating member of his church community. He represents no risk to the UK. On the contrary, he has already begun to make a valuable contribution and removing him simply hurts his friends and community members.
3.) We are particularly aggrieved at the way Otis was detained.  He was seized at 4am on December 21st, taken into detention in Bridgend and then, swiftly, removed to Brook House at Gatwick.  He and a Welsh friend were told that he is scheduled for deportation on Christmas day.  His lawyer, who has accumulated additional evidence to support his request for asylum is on holiday, so he has had no legal representation throughout this process. He is utterly traumatised by this treatment and in fear of his life should he be returned to the DR.  We are very concerned about his  rapidly deteriorating mental health.
Our community is particularly shocked that these events should have occurred during the Christmas period, when all legal and government agencies are closed, and the country is celebrating. There is a special irony in this case in that the brutal treatment of Otis is wholly at odds with the Christian message of peace, love and compassion.  We ask you to find your own compassion and return Otis to his friends and community to practice his religion this Christmas Day. This would also reassure the thousands of us who have signed the petition that you are, as you have claimed, softening the cultural and political indifference to suffering represented by the ‘hostile environment’ into a more human and sensitive approach to refugees.
The UK has a proud history of granting asylum to those who need protection. The Home Office website says “All asylum claims lodged in the UK are carefully considered on their individual merits against a background of relevant case law and up to date country information.”
Please apply these principles to Otis’s case, stop this deportation and let Otis come home.
Best wishes,
Ailsa Dunn       secretary for Hay, Brecon & Talgarth Sanctuary for Refugees [ 1173570]
  Please see the wonderful supportive  letter below.

‘From Adam Price Leader of Plaid Cymru to the Home Secretary

Dear Home Secretary

I am writing to you as the Leader of my party to ask you to intervene urgently and personally to prevent the imminent deportation of Mr Otis Bolamu.

Mr Bolamu was seized by immigration authorities at 4am last Thursday in Swansea. He is now being held at Brook House near Gatwick and is due to be deported tomorrow, Christmas Day. Though the speed and manner of Mr Bolamu’s deportation are an affront to most people’s sense of justice and due process, the fact that he is due to be forcibly removed on a day that celebrates the birth of the most notable asylum seeker in history is to many of us symbolic of an immigration policy that is both inhumane and, in terms of its morality, un-Christian.

You will, no doubt, be aware from media reports and Mr Bolamu’s case history that he has already suffered torture at the hands of the ruling regime in the DRC due to his association with Opposition groups. You will also be aware of the violence that is currently engulfing the country in the wake of the decision to postpone the presidential election. This has prompted the prosecutor of the ICC to warn of the possibility that ‘grave crimes’ are about to be committed. It is, therefore, no exaggeration to say that there could not be a worse time for Mr Bolamu to be summarily deported.

Given the above and the outpouring of solidarity which news of Mr Bolamu’s detention has inspired, that is itself testament to his good character, I would ask, in a spirit of both compassion and common sense that you use your discretionary powers to rescind the order to deport Mr Bolamu and allow him to spend Christmas instead with his friends and his newfound community here in Wales.
with best regards,

Adam Price
Leader, Plaid Cymru”’

24th December

And comments from Peter Florence

It appears that the extraordinary response to the petition arguing for a stay of deportation has worked, alongside heroic work from Hay Brecon and Talgarth Sanctuary for Refugees, Oxfam and churchgoers in Swansea, Apareco in the DRC, a number of persistent MPs, and some good lawyers. Otis’ deportation tomorrow is cancelled. More as it comes, but huge thanks to everyone who joined the campaign for goodwill and compassion this Christmas. It’s a small and temporary but lovely triumph. X

Letter we sent following news of the temporary lifting of the removal notice

Dear Rt Hon Mr. Javid,
Just to let you know that Otis has been given a’ notice of immigration decision cancelled notice of removal’.
Whilst we are all pleased that Otis is not just about to be sent to his death and the likelihood is that with new information that has accumulated since his detention that he will be able to make a successful claim, the fact remains that he is still in detention with significant detriment to his mental and possible physical health.  This injustice needs to be remedied.
We are also appalled that this order was apparently signed on the 21st but not given to Otis until the 24th leaving him ( and his many supporters) fearing that he was being sent to certain death on Christmas Day. A very cruel kind of torture indeed.
1) this man is no risk to the public, is very well settled in Swansea and has total support from the ex-pat Congolese community, his church, teachers & co-workers including at Hay Festival where he volunteered.
2)he was removed from his bed in a gratuitous act of intimidation at 4am, a couple of days before Xmas, even though he was no risk to public safety. This act meant that he had no access to legal representation.
3) pressure of local public opinion and the outrage of a number of influential people has shown that public opinion here is against this draconian treatment of people seeking sanctuary.
4) there is categorical evidence that his life would be at risk if deported to the DRC, which cannot be discussed for legal reasons
Please can you ensure that others are not detained in this way  and that the planned reduction in the use of detention is escalated?
All good wishes
Ailsa Dunn for HBTSR
                And an update sent on 5th January2019- the Twelfth day of Christmas.
to MPs [ 5] and Ams [ 8]who have helped,
You have been kind enough to express an interest and concern for Otis from DRC who living in Swansea when he was detained on the 20th and threatened with deportation on Christmas Day .  Since this time he has remained in detention at Brook House Gatwick and continues to be anxious about his future. However he has a new solicitor who is working upon a fresh asylum claim and Otis has been cheered by the outpouring of support.
The petition started on the 22nd [] now has over 11,000 signatures.
The case has been highlighted by the media
and many other local newspapers including the Brecon and Radnor Express, the Bromsgrove Advertiser , the Ledbury reporter and the Malvern Gazette.
The latest news is that Otis heard from a Home office official on Friday 4th that his fresh claim had insufficient evidence but Otis’s  solicitor remains confident that he will be able to present a satisfactory case with the new evidence that he is compiling.
And today at Castle street bookshop in Swansea many people turned up to have photos taken and tweet their support.#SafeRefugeForOtis  and this was supported by many people from across the country sending photos too.
Otis has sent several messages of gratitude including one today –
‘For the first time in this new year 2019, to have this kind of good news of encouragement. God will grace you.., meanwhile be good and share my message to all and all my sincere thanks, for wanting to carry me to your hearts. I like you, Swansea and everywhere else. bye’
Thank you for your support and I hope that this update is of help. As a group of friends and supporters of Otis we will continue to do what we can to help Otis to return to Swansea, achieve his right to remain  and become an even more treasured member of society.
Please continue to raise Otis’ case with the Home Office and in the media.
 Yours very sincerely Ailsa Dunn for HBTSR
                                                                                     10th January 2019
Otis is released!

Message from Otis’ friend

‘Hi all,
I want to inform you that yesterday we went to visit Otis. He was very happy and today early morning the Home office released him and he will back to Swansea soon.
I will say thank you to everyone who support our friend.’

Our Twitter message ’We are all overjoyed that Otis will be home with all his friends in Swansea soon. But the campaign continues, for him & for all refugees & asylum seekers suffering the punitive policies of the ‘hostile environment. Welcome home Otis. 🎉🎂#SafeRefugeForOtis

Update to petition

Dear Supporters

We are delighted to say that Otis was released from detention today and is travelling back to Swansea, to his overjoyed friends and colleagues. See the photo below, from a happier time, a few months ago.

The legal process continues. This will, we hope, give him the refugee status he needs and deserves.

However, for the moment,  join us in sharing the joy of this moment and welcoming Otis ‘home’ to Swansea.

We could not have achieved this without your support. Please stay with us in the continuing effort to obtain a #SafeRefugeForOtis and others in his position.

Otis back in Castle street Arts

Otis celebrating volunteer week with friends

We have tried to thank as many people as we can for the support and help that has led to this good outcome. It is satisfying to know that our small part of the UK can help to mobilise support to tell the Home office that we don’t like the hostile environment. We know that Otis still has to make a successful application for asylum but at least he can now do so in Freedom.

For people interested in learning more look here and here 

FINAL COMMENT It really is appalling that people who have done nothing wrong are dragged away in what they stand up in, phone removed and imprisoned without any idea of how long they will be there, threatened with deportation and usually lose any belongings that they had accumulated.  We need to remember there are many more who are still fighting [and those whose fight is yet to begin ] to be able to call the UK home. Let’s hope what we have learned from the last few weeks will help us to help others who may not be so photogenic, so well motivated to volunteer or  so charismatic.

Otis in his thank you T shirt

Back at the Bookshop

Photos in this article are from Castle street arts