VICTIMS of torture and rape have been detained at the controversial Dungavel Immigration Removal Centre in Scotland in breach of government rules aimed at protecting traumatised asylum seekers.
“At least 14 asylum seekers have been wrongfully held at the South Lanarkshire facility since February 2010, according to
independent doctors volunteering for a charity called Medical Justice.
As well as torture cases, they include three rape victims and four immigrants suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Under Rule 35 of the Home Office’s detention centre rules – dating from 2001 – medical staff in immigration removal centres (IRCs) must prepare a report for people who claim to have been tortured. Those reports should be reviewed by the United Kingdom Border’s Agency (UKBA) and the detainee released if their account is verified.
But Medical Justice alleges staff at the centre routinely fail to implement Rule 35 and that UKBA’s response to torture reports is often inadequate.
Medical Justice volunteer Dr Kate Wrigley told Scotland On Sunday she had examined a number of former Dungavel detainees with scars and injuries who should not have been held at the facility.
She said: “For example, [people with] skull depressions following alleged beatings with rifle butts, distinctive burns from cigarettes or hot metal objects, shoulder injuries following prolonged hanging by the wrists, as well as people with psychological problems – such as post-traumatic stress disorder following alleged torture and rape. People often have many scars [more than ten or 20] and significant mental health problems which can become worse in detention.”
Natasha Tsangarides, of Medical Justice, said the failure to identify and release people with independent evidence of torture at Dungavel IRC was not an isolated problem.
“It is prevalent in all IRCs across the UK. The UK Border Agency has repeatedly been criticised over this by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons, as well as in a series of damning case law judgments. However, little has changed.”
Earlier this year, Medical Justice produced a report examining the cases of 50 people who had independent evidence of torture. “All but one were failed by the Rule 35 process, whilst the rest languished in detention,” Tsangarides said. “The continued failure to safeguard some of the most vulnerable people in our society shows the disrespect and disregard the UK Border Agency have in…upholding the rule of law.”
Politicians called for an urgent review of procedures at Dungavel. Patrick Harvie, the Green Party co-leader at Holyrood, said officials should be held to account for failing in their duties. “The revelation that victims of torture, rape and other despicable crimes are being mistreated in this way is disturbing but, sadly, not surprising. For years, successive UK governments have run an asylum system which is deliberately brutal, inhumane, and at times little more than a human warehousing exercise.
“There is a real need for ministers and officials to be held to account for their mistreatment of the most vulnerable people in the country.”
Keith Best, the chief executive of Freedom from Torture, said UKBA’s own policy says torture survivors should be detained only in the most exceptional circumstances. “But this is routinely flouted, as is this basic safeguard known as ‘Rule 35’, which is meant to correct bad decisions,” he said.
“We are not demanding that UKBA do anything other than adhere to its own policy and the rules that parliament has set. Until this happens, many more torture survivors will be re-traumatised by their detention experiences at IRCs around the UK.”
A UKBA spokesman said: “Anyone believed to be a victim of torture is only detained in exceptional circumstances and is treated with the utmost sensitivity. Dungavel IRC receives very positive reports from HM Inspectorate of Prisons and we continue to tighten procedures and improve training for staff working in removal centres.”
Scotland On Sunday’s investigation into the treatment of asylum seekers can also reveal that children are still being locked up, despite a government promise two years ago to end child detention.