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Marchers demand the closure of Yarl’s Wood on London’s ‘Refugees Welcome’ demonstration
ASYLUM seekers who had been tortured in the country from which they have fled were wrongly incarcerated in detention centres in the UK while their case was processed, a court has ruled.

The judgment is expected to lead to dozens of claims for unlawful detention against the Home Office. Following the ruling, lawyers and human rights campaigners have called for all victims of torture to be released from immigration detention.

Up until now, only those who had been tortured by official state agencies or terror groups were not allowed to be held in detention centres. But torture survivors and the charity Medical Justice argued that definition was too narrow and should include victims of trafficking and other abuses. The Home Office has said it will not appeal against the ruling, which will affect hundreds of cases.

The Home Office’s own sampling of cases revealed 226 cases between September and December 2016 who as survivors of torture should not have been detained. The case was bought by seven survivors of torture who had been detained in the UK. Lawyers acting for the seven torture victims who took up the case say that many more victims are likely to have been wrongly detained.

One of the claimants, a young man kidnapped and beaten with knives, sticks and a gun by the Taliban because he refused to be groomed into joining them, was told by the Home Office that his case did not meet the new definition of torture. Another claimant, a Nepalese man who was beaten, cut and shot at by a terrorist group in his home country, in an ordeal lasting 15 days, was also told that his experiences do not meet the new definition of torture.

Under official guidelines, people classed as victims of torture should be housed in private accommodation provided by the government or family members already living in the country while their asylum claims are processed. Responding to the judgment, Martha Spurrier, Director of Liberty, said: ‘We welcome Tuesday’s ruling – but it is a damning indictment of our Government that this sickening policy ever saw the light of day.

‘In the UK in 2017, the Home Secretary ignored medical expertise, basic humanity and the law to sign off a barbaric policy to lock up traumatised torture survivors. It is symptomatic of a vicious approach to immigration detention that sees thousands of people locked up in brutal conditions around the UK, with no certainty of when or if they will be released. Until that ends, this Government is endorsing abuse.’

Tuesday’s judgment states: ‘The chief problem with the narrowed definition is that it excludes certain individuals whose experiences of the infliction of severe pain and suffering may indeed make them particularly vulnerable to harm in detention.’ The judge added that the definition of torture intended for use in the policy would require medical practitioners to ‘reach conclusions on political issues which they cannot rationally be asked to reach’.

Emma Ginn, the coordinator of Medical Justice, said: ‘Narrowing the definition of torture by the Home Office demonstrates its sheer contempt for vulnerable detainees whose lives it is responsible for. There is ample justification for immediately releasing all detained adults at risk so they can access the care and support they need in the community.’

Toufique Hossain of solicitors Duncan Lewis, who represented five of the torture survivors who brought the legal challenge, said: ‘What is particularly shocking in this case, is that the secretary of state developed a policy, completely at odds with responsible medical opinion and established legal standards, that treated people who suffered abhorrent torture differently, simply on the basis of who their torturer was.’

Jed Pennington of Bhatt Murphy solicitors, who represented two of the claimants and Medical Justice, said: ‘The Adults At Risk policy is fundamentally flawed and should be replaced with a framework that genuinely protects the vulnerable with, as a minimum, a prohibition on the detention of all victims of torture or trauma.’

The Equality and Human Rights Commission intervened in the case. Its chair, David Isaac, said: ‘People who have been subjected to torture should not be kept in immigration detention. This unlawful policy has been scrapped, but the government should now go further and strengthen the human rights protections for people in immigration detention.’

The shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said: ‘The idea that this country would lock up people who were victims of torture is truly shocking. The court’s verdict must be accepted by government and they need to act. There must be no attempt to work around or simply ignore the ruling, as happened in previous cases. No victims of torture should be held in detention.’

• Campaign group Detention Action’ said in a statement: ‘End the Detained Fast Track! Until the success of our legal challenge in 2015, many people arriving in the UK to claim asylum were detained immediately. Under  the Detained Fast Track or “DFT”, their asylum claims were processed while they were locked up in high security immigration detention centres.

What is the DFT?

‘The DFT was a process for deciding asylum claims whilst the person was in detention, to accelerated time-scales. The DFT was designed for asylum claims that were considered suitable for a quick decision. This was problematic because the decision to fast-track an asylum case was made when very little was known about the person’s situation. As a result, vulnerable people with complex cases, including victims of torture, trafficking, gender-based violence and homophobic persecution, were regularly detained on the DFT.

‘The screening process was often inadequate, the questions asked did not address the details of the person’s case and were unlikely to elicit information that would demonstrate unsuitability, such as experience of torture, trafficking or mental ill health. Poor quality Rule 35 reports, which require detention centre medical staff to report any person who may have been a victim of torture, proved to be an ineffective safeguard. Wrongly entering the DFT had a devastating effects on a vulnerable person’s chances of successfully claiming asylum.  Many years, the Home Office refused 99% of asylum claims which they placed on the DFT.

Legal challenge

‘Between 2013 and 2015, Detention Action brought a challenge to the legality of the DFT in the courts. We believed that people whose claims were heard from detention were not dealt with fairly, and that the nature of the DFT process prevented them from having their asylum claims properly considered. We were successful. The Court of Appeal found that the judicial rules setting the tight timescales for asylum-seekers to make appeals were unlawful and “ultra vires” and that the strict time limits in and of themselves were “structurally unfair”.

End Indefinite Detention!

‘ “I don’t know when I’m going to get back to my life. Could be any time, could be five years. We don’t know. That’s what’s killing us here. I want my freedom back,” said Ahmad, Iran, detained for over a year. People are detained without any time limit. More and more people are being detained for years. The UK is the only country in the European Union which does not have a time limit on depriving people of their freedom.

''People are detained for a very long time by the UK Border Agency when they cannot return to countries like Zimbabwe or Somalia because they are too dangerous. Others cannot be deported because they do not have a passport and their Embassy refuses  to allow them to return. People are not able to leave Britain but instead of being released, they are kept in detention indefinitely.

Take Action

‘Most people find long-term detention intensely traumatic. Not knowing when you will be free is damaging to mental health. People who have been tortured or imprisoned in their home countries are particularly scarred by long-term detention. We are calling on the government to introduce a time limit on detention. Take action with us to end indefinite detention.’


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