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Groups raise asylum and immigration concerns as UN Committee against Torture examines the record of the UK


Equality & Human Rights Commission and REDRESS among groups submitting critical reports

Date of Publication:
08 May 2019

Groups raise asylum and immigration concerns as UN Committee against Torture examines the record of the UK

08 May 2019

The United Nations Committee against Torture yesterday began examining the record of the UK on preventing torture and ill-treatment. The UK is among six countries being reviewed by the Committee at its 66th session.

A number of groups submitted reports to the Committee against Torture and a number of those reports raise concerns over issues related to asylum and immigration. Of particular note are submissions by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and by 74 civil society organisations led by REDRESS.

The 90-page EHRC submission is here. The report is particularly concerned over the continued use of immigration detention in the UK.

The EHRC said in a press release yesterday: "The UK remains the only country in the European Union that can legally hold people in immigration detention indefinitely.

"Not having a time limit on immigration detention and continuing the detention of torture survivors and other individuals at increased risk of harm in detention could amount to torture or inhuman and degrading treatment.

"We therefore called on the UK government to introduce a 28-day time limit on immigration detention and to ensure that detention is used only as an administrative measure of last resort."

The EHRC's report recommends that all immigration detainees should have effective access to fair and accessible procedures to challenge the decision to detain or deport, including by rejecting an expedited procedure for determining a detained immigration or asylum appeal.

The report also expresses concerns over the removal of legal aid from non-asylum immigration cases.

It states: "The EHRC is concerned that, while most immigration cases that engage Article 3 of the ECHR are likely to be covered by legal aid, there are some categories of people who are particularly at risk of mistreatment whose cases may be excluded. For example, legal aid is not available (except possibly through an application for exceptional case funding) to help applicants make a statelessness claim, a restriction which has been criticised by stakeholders for 'impact[ing] on the length of detention and the outcome of substantive cases'. Legal aid is also not generally available for people who have been identified as potential victims of trafficking but are awaiting a 'reasonable grounds' decision about their status."

The 104-page submission by REDRESS supported by 73 other NGOs and civil society groups is here. Chapter 3 of the report covers asylum and immigration.

REDRESS raises a number of concerns over the Home Office's handling of asylum claims by torture survivors.

The report states: "The determination system for asylum is notoriously arbitrary: numerous investigations have pointed out the culture of disbelief and hostility towards applicants, the routine misapplication of the standard of proof, a lack of accountability, and the poor training of those making decisions."

It continues: "The approach followed by asylum caseworkers when assessing cases of torture survivors and other asylum seekers includes: sceptical interview techniques; a failure to properly consider the available evidence, including medical evidence of torture; and flawed credibility assessments based on minute contradictions in detail or an inability to remember specific details."

The report recommends that the UK should allow for an independent public audit of the application of the standard of proof in asylum decisions to be undertaken by an independent body with the requisite legal expertise, such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

The report also raises concerns over immigration detention and notes that "[t]orture survivors are regularly detained for immigration purposes in the UK and the current safeguards fail to provide them with adequate protection."

REDRESS joins many others in calling for a 28-day limit for immigration detention.

In addition, the report briefly considers poverty in the asylum process and the risk of destitution. It recommends: "The UK should provide asylum seekers and refused asylum seekers with the right to work and provide sufficient support to meet basic needs in line with mainstream income support and ensure that no one becomes destitute."

Sonya Sceats, chief executive of Freedom from Torture, said: "The evidence in this report is a damning indictment of the UK's commitment to its obligations under the Convention Against Torture. The UK should be a leader in the global fight against torture, yet it has resisted demands to hold an independent judge-led inquiry into its own complicity in torture. It continues its poor treatment of torture survivors seeking asylum in the UK, detaining them against its own guidance for indefinite periods of time and forcing them through impossible hoops to prove they have been tortured. This report is a wake-up call – the UK should be leading the world in its opposition to torture and fostering a place of safety for torture survivors."

Corey Stoughton of Liberty said: "Over the five-year reporting period not only have we seen a lack of progress in the fight against torture but also troubling backsliding – with alarming evidence of ill-treatment in public services such as immigration detention centres, prisons and mental health facilities, and a lack of accountability for torture and ill-treatment overseas. Set in the context of an increasingly hostile environment for migrants and undocumented people, the report paints a disturbing picture. It is high time that the UK lives up to the reputation it sets for itself as a human rights leader and takes seriously its fundamental commitment to the absolute prohibition of torture and other forms of ill-treatment."

Other submissions to the Committee against Torture, and the UK's state report, can be accessed from the Committee's 66th session page here.