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Time running out to stop deportation of Congolese student

ZAVENTEM, BELGIUM: Illustration picture shows police outside Brussels Airport  in Zaventem, (BELGA PHOTO VIRGINIE LEFOUR)
06:02 04/10/2021

The fate of Junior Masudi Wasso, a 20-year-old Congolese student enrolled at UCLouvain, still hangs in the balance after a second attempt was made to deport him on Sunday.

After arriving in Belgium on 18 September in possession of a valid passport and a valid residence permit, Junior was arrested by the border police and taken to the Caricole Transit Centre where he was detained. The only reason given for his arrest was that the police found his motives for entering the country to be ‘suspicious’. An aborted attempt to deport him took place on Thursday of last week.

"His answers presented inconsistencies in relation to his place of residence, how he would get to UCLouvain from his residence and the payment of the registration fees," stated Dominique Ernould of the Foreigners’ Office. "This has raised doubts about his willingness to do a whole university course in Belgium." Junior was due to stay with his sister who lives in Denderleeuw, in Flemish Brabant, while undertaking his studies.

"Having a passport with a visa does not give an automatic right to enter Belgian soil,” Ernould added. “There is always a check at the time of arrival."

Junior’s arrest has caused emotions to run high in the student community. A petition is currently circulating in the university where Junior was enrolled and due to begin his studies in economics. It has already collected more than 5,000 signatures.

On Sunday, about 20 people were present at Zaventem airport to raise awareness among passengers flying to Kinshasa on the plane which Junior was to be put. Dozens of people had also demonstrated on Friday in Louvain-La-Neuve and a demonstration in support of Junior is planned for Monday at 12:30 in front of the Foreigners' Office in Brussels.

"We denounce this dramatic situation and the relentlessness towards a young person who has a perfectly in-order student visa," said a member of the support collective for Junior.

The university itself has confirmed that the registration of the Congolese student is indeed in order. "We are quite surprised, indeed," said Marthe Nyssens, pro-rector, in charge of human rights at UCLouvain. “We confirm the registration of Junior Masudi Wasso. Based on the information we have, we wonder why his entry into Belgian territory was refused."

The Council of Rectors (CReF) of French-speaking universities joined UCLouvain in denouncing Junior’s arrest and spoke out against the desire to expel the student.

"The rectors of French-speaking universities, following the position of UCLouvain, denounce this deprivation of liberty,” read the statement released on Sunday by the CReF. “We join in protesting against the desire to expel him and very much hope that the Secretary of State for Asylum and Migration will use his discretionary power to allow Junior Masudi Wasso to continue his studies in Belgium in peace."

The case has also raised concern in the Congolese government. President Felix Tshisekedi condemned what he called a "deplorable act" and demanded the immediate release of the young man. The president reminded the Belgian authorities that they must “ensure, out of a duty of reciprocity, better treatment for Congolese citizens who arrive on their soil, as the Democratic Republic of Congo does for Belgian citizens."

Junior’s lawyer Marie Doutrepont has questioned the right of police officers in charge of border controls to make decisions on arrests. “The power given to the police assuming control of the borders, in my opinion, is completely discretionary in the sense that it is they alone who decide to arrest one person rather than another, to question one person rather than another,” she said. “They may also possibly refuse entry into the territory."

Doutrepont has already filed an appeal with the Foreigners’ Litigation Council which was dismissed by a judge who found that the defence's arguments were unfounded.

Another attempt to repatriate Junior Masudi Wasso to Congo will be made in the coming days.

Written by Nick Amies