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Asylum Seekers: Torture Victims

– in the House of Lords on 17th May 2007.

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Photo of Lord Hylton Lord Hylton Crossbench

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will ensure that there are effective procedures for referring all detained asylum applicants who allege previous torture or rape to the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, or to other medical practitioners experienced in the field.

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State, Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Crime Reduction)

My Lords, it is not Home Office policy to refer detained asylum seekers who allege that they have been tortured or raped directly to the Medical Foundation or other medical practitioners. However, where it appears that there may be some basis to their allegation, I am satisfied that effective procedures are in place to enable detained asylum seekers to access such services.

Photo of Lord Hylton Lord Hylton Crossbench

My Lords, this is a difficult matter, which has been going on for years. Is the Minister aware that there is considerable concern that the Home Office has been breaching its own guidelines? Is it not the case that medical records on paper seldom reveal whether someone is a torture survivor and that staff at removal centres, even the health staff, are not trained to identify such people? Will the Government therefore do everything necessary to ensure that alleged cases are referred to experienced practitioners?

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State, Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Crime Reduction)

My Lords, I assure the House that the Home Office is not in breach of its own guidelines. I am aware that, as the noble Lord says, there has been concern about the issue. In the light of the recent changes to the asylum process that have now been rolled out across the country, the Border and Immigration Agency will look again at how we deal with the Medical Foundation and work to develop new processes during the next few months.

Photo of Lord Avebury Lord Avebury Spokesperson in the Lords (Civil Liberties), Home Affairs, Spokesperson in the Lords (Africa), Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs

My Lords, the Minister may be satisfied with the effectiveness of the process, but Anne Owers, the chief inspector, in three successive reports on Dungavel, Campsfield House and Harmondsworth, found that healthcare staff were not trained in handling victims of torture. Although pro forma letters were sent to the IND in accordance with Rule 35, notifying allegations of torture, there was hardly ever any feedback. Will the noble Baroness undertake to publish the internal audit by Mr Stuart Hyde by placing a copy in the Library, and is she satisfied that Mr Hyde had access to proper medical and legal advice in conducting his investigation?

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State, Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Crime Reduction)

My Lords, as the noble Lord knows, it is not usual to publish such internal reports. I will certainly take that matter back to see what we can do. The change in the process that we have now adopted with case management enhances the opportunity accurately to identify those cases where individuals may need additional support. With the work that we have undertaken together with representatives, we believe that we are now better able to identify appropriate cases.

Photo of The Bishop of Leicester The Bishop of Leicester Bishop

My Lords, can the Minister tell us how many asylum seekers who are currently in detention centres are known to have recorded independent evidence of having been tortured? What is the average length of time that they spend there in those circumstances?

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State, Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Crime Reduction)

My Lords, I can certainly give the right reverend Prelate statistics on how many of the detained are fast-tracked through NSA procedures. At Harmondsworth, the intake was 990 cases, of which 40 were released for Medical Foundation appointments pre-decision and four were released post-decision. In Yarl's Wood, the intake was 412, including 30 NSAs. Thirty-six cases, including three NSA cases, were released for Medical Foundation appointments pre-decision. Four were released post-decision. At Oakington, the total intake was 2,893. Seventy-two cases were released for Medical Foundation appointments pre-decision and none was released post-decision.

Photo of Baroness Stern Baroness Stern Crossbench

My Lords, the Minister will be aware of the report by Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons into healthcare at Yarl's Wood immigration removal centre, where women and children are held. She will also be aware that the report was very critical of aspects of the healthcare, particularly for the victims of torture held in detention. She will be aware, too, that the management of Yarl's Wood changed earlier this year and that there have been reports of demonstrations against the new management because of a deterioration in the treatment. Can she tell the House what has been happening at Yarl's Wood? Has the situation been resolved, and what effects has it had on the very vulnerable women and children who are held there?

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State, Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Crime Reduction)

My Lords, we are taking steps in relation to Yarl's Wood. As the noble Baroness said, there have been a number of protests at Yarl's Wood, fuelled by fears that the regime will be reduced following the transfer of the operating contract from GSL to Serco. This will involve changes, and staff at Yarl's Wood have been proactive in dealing with these fears and protests, including food refusals, which have now been dealt with. These issues are of concern, but I assure the House that everything is being done to ensure that appropriate standards are maintained throughout.

Photo of Baroness Anelay of St Johns Baroness Anelay of St Johns Shadow Minister, Home Affairs

My Lords, will the Minister take this opportunity to join me in praising the valuable work that the Medical Foundation does on behalf of victims of torture? I understand that over half those who are referred to it come from African countries such as Cameroon, Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia. Will she take the opportunity today to tell the House what pressure the Government are putting on the Governments of those countries to end these barbaric practices?

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State, Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Crime Reduction)

My Lords, I absolutely endorse what the noble Baroness says about the excellent work that is being done by the Medical Foundation, and indeed by a couple of other organisations that have targeted this as an issue. She will know that we are making strenuous efforts in this whole area to try to ensure that there is better understanding of what needs to be done to stop this sort of behaviour. The work that we are doing through DfID is extremely important and we are, we think, helping to make a difference.

Photo of Lord Lester of Herne Hill Lord Lester of Herne Hill Women & Equality, Cross-Portfolio and Non-Portfolio Responsibilities

My Lords, will the Minister do what the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, I and other members of the Joint Committee on Human Rights have done and visit Yarl's Wood, see the inmates on their own without staff and then see the staff? Will she then tell us the results of that, because we were horrified?

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State, Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Crime Reduction)

My Lords, I would of course be delighted so to do, but the noble Lord will know that I have the pleasure of now being the Minister of State responsible for crime reduction. My honourable friend Liam Byrne is the Minister responsible for Yarl's Wood, which I believe he has visited on a number of occasions. If the opportunity arose to visit it, I would be more than happy to do so.