Mozambique: Failure to release African refugees and asylum seekers reveals disturbing flaws in justice system

The Mozambican authorities still have not released 16 African refugees and asylum seekers who have been languishing in inhuman conditions in prison for the past 18 months without having committed any criminal offence, Amnesty International said today to mark World Refugee Day.

The biggest tragedy about the continued arbitrary detention of these refugees is that 18 months after their detention, they remain in the dark as to why they have been arrested in the first place
Muleya Mwananyanda, Deputy Director for Southern Africa

 The refugees and asylum seekers, who include 15 Congolese people and one Ethiopian man, have been in detention in Pemba, Cabo Delgado province since their arrest in January 2019. An attempt to deport seven of the Congolese citizens to the Democratic Republic of the Congo failed.

“The biggest tragedy about the continued arbitrary detention of these refugees is that 18 months after their detention, they remain in the dark as to why they have been arrested in the first place,” said Muleya Mwananyanda, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Southern Africa.

“Their treatment is abhorrent and authorities must acknowledge this issue and provide remedy and ensure that the criminal justice system delivers justice for these marginalized people urgently.”

The refugees have been held in inhuman conditions with no toilet in their cell and no access to clean drinking water, which means they are forced to drink unclean water. They are also not provided with sufficient food portions. And they don’t have mattresses and have to sleep on a sheet of paper on the floor.

The group was arbitrarily arrested on 17 January 2019, after being handcuffed and allegedly beaten by police and immigration officers in Maratane refugee camp in Mozambique’s northeastern Nampula province. Two days later, they were transferred to the police station in Pemba, Cabo Delgado province. Until now, they have not been informed of the reasons for their continued detention nor of any charges against them.

Amnesty International emphasizes that the prolonged arbitrary detention of these people is a human rights violation and poses a threat to their lives in the context of COVID-19. The organization has learned that the prison authorities have not implemented any measures to prevent the disease in the detention facility.

The Mozambican government must immediately and unconditionally end the arbitrary detention of these refugees and release them without any delay or charge them with internationally recognizable offences if they have committed any crime
Muleya Mwananyanda

“The Mozambican government must immediately and unconditionally end the arbitrary detention of these refugees and release them without any delay or charge them with internationally recognizable offences if they have committed any crime.”

Background

Following their arrest, Mozambican authorities attempted to deport seven of the refugees and asylum seekers back to the Democratic Republic of Congo on 23 January 2019. However, they were turned back at Kinshasa International Airport after being denied entry by Congolese immigration officials.