Alison Thewliss MP meets with torture survivors
On Thursday 9 March, the Freedom from Torture Glasgow centre opened their doors to local MP Alison Thewliss. The centre is the only specialist service for torture survivors in Scotland, an area where many asylum applicants and refugees are housed, including recent refugees from Syria.
Alison was elected as the first SNP MP for Glasgow Central in May 2015. She is no stranger to the area as she formerly served as a Councillor for the Carlton ward. This was her first visit to the Glasgow centre.
During the hour-long visit, Alison met with staff and clients. Centre manager Norma McKinnon explained how the centre supported the rehabilitation of traumatised torture survivors with individual and group therapy. The centre has the capacity to see around 170 survivors each year but the demand for their services is so high that for every person accepted as a client, two others are turned away.
Kolbassia Haoussou, co-ordinator of Survivors Speak OUT, torture survivor-led activist network, supported our Glasgow-based clients to explain to Alison some of the problems they faced as asylum applicants. Freedom from Torture research has shown that caseworkers at the Home Office often misinterpret or simply ignore expert reports providing medical evidence of torture, which are compiled by Freedom from Torture doctors.
The group told Alison that it was essential that the Home Office provide better training for caseworkers so that they trust expert opinion and arrive at a correct decision first time. Otherwise, a bad decision goes to appeal, which then forces the Home Office to review the first decision. This means more waiting and more distress for the torture survivor, caught in the system. Even when the first decision is overturned on appeal, it is a waste of money spent on appeals. It’s better to get it right first time.
The long drawn out process of decision-making, often taking months and years, places a heavy burden on torture survivors and negatively impacts the healing process. During that time, many torture survivors live in destitution on the margins of society.
Clients described to Alison the reality of their daily lives. One said,
"While we wait for protection, we cannot work, we've little money and we are even destitute. It's degrading the way we are treated.”
A woman described her limited choices:
“We can't sleep in a night shelter or on the streets. There is too much risk. Where can we go that is safe?”
At the end of the visit, Alison Thewliss said,
“I am very grateful to Freedom from Torture, Survivors Speak OUT and all the clients I have met today for telling me their powerful stories. There are lots of issues to deal with and I will definitely be raising them with the Home Office.”