Tortured asylum seekers who have been held in detention in the UK could be released after a high court judge ordered the Home Office to review its policy towards them. Survivors of torture are only legally allowed to be detained in the UK under “extreme circumstances”, but the rewriting of the definition of torture by the government led to hundreds of asylum seekers being incarcerated. The new definition, which was only enacted in September, meant that the abuse had to have been carried out by official state agents in order to be counted as torture, as opposed to by any individual or group.
Criticisms have previously been levelled against the Home Office, with allegations that they have disregarded medical evidence of torture. Caseworkers in charge of deciding whether or not to verify claims of abuse have allegedly ignored the expert analysis of doctors, and have argued that any inconsistencies in the account given by the asylum seekers is evidence that the claim is untrue. Chai Patel, legal and policy director at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) has pointed out that torture, especially psychological abuse, strongly affects the mind and memory: “Torture can, and does, affect memory recall, and it is wrong when officials use the effects of that trauma to discredit victims’ accounts.”
Campaigners have called for a one-day training programme to help caseworkers know how to treat people who claim to have been tortured, and this idea has been supported by the Home Office, but not put into practice.
It would not be an exaggeration to compare detention centres to prisons – in fact the two have more in common than not. The conditions in which asylum claimants are held are reprehensible, and for torture survivors there simply isn’t adequate medical care.
A full hearing will be held on governmental policy early next year, and until that has concluded the law has reverted to the previous definition, so any torture survivors should legally be released for the next few months at the very least. This lengthy legal process however, is yet another source of anguish for people who are, in effect, being punished for having been victims of horrendous crimes.