New report reveals ‘scandal’ of detention of torture survivors for immigration convenience
The shameful circumstances in which torture survivors are routinely held in immigration detention in the UK came to light yet again this week, as Medical Justice published disturbing evidence of the UK Border Agency (UKBA) continuing to breach its own policy of not detaining torture survivors except in 'very exceptional circumstances'.
The report – 'The Second Torture: The Immigration Detention of Torture Survivors' – examined 50 separate cases where a person with 'medical evidence that accords well with their account of torture' was held in detention between May 2010 and May 2011.
There was 'independent evidence of torture', in all 50 cases but only one individual was released through a UKBA process known as 'Rule 35' – a supposed safeguard designed to identify torture survivors and ensure their release from detention.
Many survivors who have received rehabilitative care at Freedom from Torture have been re-traumatised by immigration detention in the UK – some, in keeping with the title of this new report, have previously described it as being 'tortured all over again'.
The report's disturbing findings about the damaging effect of detention on the physical and psychological health of these 50 individuals is therefore sadly unsurprising.
Among other health concerns, 23 per cent of the sample went on hunger strike (of which half required hospitalization); 34 per cent experienced suicidal intent or self harmed; 16 per cent attempted suicide; and 83 per cent self-reported that detention had a negative impact on their mental and physical health.
After attending a Parliamentary event – chaired by Lord Dubs – to mark the launch of the report, Freedom from Torture CEO Keith Best, said:
How long can the Border Agency continue to ignore its obligation to adhere to its own policy? For a long time now, Freedom from Torture – alongside organisations like Medical Justice – has been urging the Agency to simply comply with the law and in doing so fulfil its duty of care to extremely vulnerable individuals.
"Lord Dubs quite rightly describes the fact that the 'Rule 35' process only resulted in the release of one of the 50 individuals in this study as a 'scandal', and, in his foreword, Lord Avebury accurately concludes that 'Rule 35 is not working, and hasn't worked ever since it was first introduced'.
"The systemic failure of the Agency in this area continues to put already vulnerable people at serious risk of further harm. In the face of mounting evidence, the UKBA can simply no longer rely on its regurgitated template response that it 'takes the issue of detainee welfare seriously and is committed to treating detainees with dignity and respect' – a hollow sounding assurance to the torture survivors in this study, many of whom self-harmed or attempted suicide as a result of wrongful detention."
The UKBA is preparing to roll-out new guidance on 'Rule 35' for case owners and Freedom from Torture remains deeply concerned that the proposal revisions will encourage case owners to use their own negative credibility findings as justification for continued detention, effectively discounting the 'independent evidence of torture'.
Keith Best explained:
It's a deeply troubling situation because the Border Agency just does not understand the safeguards imposed by Parliament. Rule 35 is solely about reviewing a person's fitness for detention and not at all about considering evidence of torture for an individual's asylum application. In fact, the Court of Appeal has recently warned decision-makers against confusing 'evidence' with 'proof' in this way.
"Unless the Agency takes steps to address this as a matter of urgency, more torture survivors will be subjected to unlawful detention and will suffer re-traumatisation as a result. Inevitably there will be an explosion of litigation in individual cases which will result in large sums of public money being paid in damages. Towards the end of last year, it was revealed that more than £11 million compensation was paid in 2010 to people held unlawfully in immigration removal centres – including torture survivors.
"Freedom from Torture repeats its call for the Home Affairs Committee to use its long-awaited asylum inquiry to focus on unlawful detention including the chronic failings of the 'Rule 35' system."
Following the launch of the report by Medical Justice an Early Day Motion has been tabled welcoming its findings. A downloadable template letter asking MPs to sign 'EDM 95: Detention of Torture Survivors' is available on the organisation's website.