I join all those who have welcomed this report. As chair of the all-party group on human trafficking and modern slavery, this issue concerns us because so many of those in detention have been victims of trafficking.
I will start by quoting an email from a constituent. She is not a victim of trafficking or a refugee. She is the wife of an EU citizen who is working in the UK, so she should have the right to stay here. I firmly predict that she will eventually be allowed to stay, but the Home Office is currently maintaining that hers is a sham marriage. She was detained for more than 50 days, and she wrote to me about three weeks ago. Forgive her English:
“Today I want to bring something in your acknowledge about how detention centre’s life effect mentally. According to me home office don’t bother about people’s life, they leave them in detention centres for die…I am nearly became a mad person while in centre because I am so much upset and depressed. I am feeling scared at night, I can’t sleep even for an hour, you know when am close my eyes then am feeling that I won’t be able to open my eyes again or if I will open may be I will be blind. I am going to mad. I am totally has been die after death of my uncle and grand mom. I went 3 to 4 times in healthcare to see doctor for depression but they just saying you have to wait few days for doctor appointment. I don’t know why they not taking it seriously as my condition is not good. You know I haven’t had any food since Saturday not at all. Even not tea. Please I want to go to my husband and parents. I can’t die like this. Why this people can’t see my condition. I can’t stay here any more not even a single moment. I am not a animal.”
This is not a woman who lacks family support. Her husband is here legally and is supporting her. She has other family here supporting her. Unlike most of the very vulnerable people in detention, she is not a victim of previous cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, yet we can hear from that message to her MP how desperate the experience of detention made her feel.
I shall not comment on everything in this excellent report. The one part of it that has the best chance of making a difference to the Home Office is the proposal for a legal limit on detention. The lack of a legal framework means that that most inefficient of Departments feels that it has the right to continue to be inefficient and to let people suffer as a result of its inefficiency.
I am particularly concerned about victims of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, victims of trafficking and victims of torture who are detained. The Helen Bamber Foundation reports that in the two months since the suspension of the detained fast track, which was suspended because it was found to be illegal, 108 people have been referred to the foundation. In 97% of cases prima facie evidence was found of torture or ill treatment having been suffered. That should have prompted immediate release. There are currently appalling delays before rule 35 reports are made, and officials from the Home Office reject those reports because they say there is no independent evidence or people did not disclose early enough.
I am grateful to the Minister, who wrote to me in August saying that he intends to work with NHS England to consider how to improve the timeliness of medical examinations and rule 35 report production, but the Helen Bamber Foundation tells me that it has not had any consultation about how that will be done. We all know that that is the most expert group in the whole country on victims of torture.
It is desperately urgent that we get these problematic matters sorted out. Even the British Medical Association, which does not often brief Members of Parliament on immigration issues, has provided us with a sensible paper containing practical recommendations, including that rule 35 reports should be written
“only by clinicians with relevant medical experience or appropriate training in identifying, documenting, and reporting the physical and psychological sequelae of torture.”
It is obvious that that should happen. I do not believe that the Minister does not think it should happen, but because there is no legal framework which ensures that that is delivered, and because in practice there is no accountability, which is what it comes down to, the Home Office’s system can get away with allowing appalling delays and amateur, inexperienced Home Office officials to say, “There’s no independent evidence that you were raped”—gosh, what a surprise!—or “There’s no independent evidence. Those scars on your body could have been caused by something else.” Such things have regularly happened to people who have been victims of trafficking and torture.
The onus is on the state to identify potential victims of trafficking. That is our legal obligation, rather than requiring the potential victim to disclose. It is clear from the Helen Bamber Foundation that the experience of being in detention makes it harder for people to deal with the impact on their mental health and harder for people to disclose. Therefore the Minister must make it clear how he will ensure that in future people who have been tortured and people who are been trafficked do not suffer further through the actions of the Home Office, and that we as a state make sure that they can overcome that victimhood.