UN Committee against Torture expresses concerns over UK’s use of immigration detention and treatment of asylum seekers
20 May 2019
The United Nations Committee against Torture on Friday published its concluding observations on the UK. You can access them from here.
As we reported earlier this month, the UK was among six countries being reviewed by the Committee at its 66th session.
In the concluding observations issued following the review, the Committee expressed a number of concerns over matters related to immigration and asylum.
The Committee was concerned over the UK’s treatment of asylum seekers at risk of torture, stating:
“Asylum and immigration procedures
52. The Committee notes with concern that the State party does not publish statistics indicating the number of persons who it has expelled or returned to other countries despite their having expressed concern about facing a risk of torture in the destination country. The State party also does not publish statistics indicating the number of persons that it has decided not to expel or return persons to other countries where they have been found to face a risk of torture. Noting that a large proportion of asylum denials are reportedly overturned on appeal, the Committee expresses serious concern about reports that Home Office caseworkers very frequently do not apply the appropriate standard of proof applicable to asylum claims and arbitrarily reject credible medical evidence of past torture, resulting in the arbitrarily denial of asylum claims made by victims of past torture. In this context, the Committee is concerned at information provided by the delegation that in 2018 there were 43 enforced returns to Sri Lanka and 50 others to Afghanistan. The Committee is also concerned that the State party maintains a designated list of countries considered safe for the purposes of certifying asylum claims as “clearly unfounded” and with respect to which appeals of a negative decision must be brought from outside the UK, and that the list currently includes Ukraine, where the UN Special Rapporteur against Torture recently reported receiving “persistent allegations of torture and ill-treatment at the time of the arrest and during interrogation” in all parts of the country (see A/HRC/40/59/Add.3, para. 109) (arts. 3 and 16).
53. The State party should:
(a) Compile detailed statistical data on the number of asylum applications involving torture claims and their outcome, disaggregated by the applicants’ country of origin and/or return, and provide this information to the Committee;
(b) Review the application of the standard of proof in asylum decisions and improve performance in this area, including with respect to caseworkers’ evaluation of medical evidence of past torture, and particularly with respect to negative determinations on applications for asylum from nationals of Afghanistan and Sri Lanka;
(c) Review the State party’s inclusion of Ukraine on the list of safe countries for return of asylum seekers, particularly in light of the recent findings of the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture.”
The Committee also expressed serious concern over the UK’s continuing use of immigration detention for victims of torture and said:
“Safeguards in the context of immigration detention
54. The Committee is very concerned by reports that victims of torture are routinely detained for immigration purposes in the State party and that the State party’s ‘Adults at Risk in Immigration Detention’ policy and Rule 35 (3) of the Detention Centre Rules 2001 are largely ineffective at identifying victims of torture and have not resulted in the release from detention of the vast majority of those people who are at risk of suffering serious harm as a consequence of detention. The Committee expresses concern that the time limit for immigration detention is still not defined by law, and that the State party has no current plans to change this policy. (arts. 2 and 11).
55. The State party should:
(a) Ensure that health professional expert statements about torture victims and other persons at particular risk of suffering harm as a consequence of detention, are given due consideration by non-health professional caseworkers, and ensure that individuals identified as at risk of future harm in detention receive necessary care and protection;
(b) Refrain from detaining irregular migrants and asylum seekers for prolonged periods, use detention as a measure of last resort only for as short a period as possible, and continue the application of non-custodial measures;
(c) Consider setting in law a reasonable time limit on the duration of administrative immigration detention.”
Amongst other concerns, the concluding observations noted: “the Committee is particularly concerned that the majority of UK police forces reported sharing information about the immigration status of victims of crimes with the Home Office, which reportedly deters migrant women with insecure immigration status from reporting and seeking protection from domestic abuse and other gender-based violence.”
The Committee against Torture was also concerned about the abuse and ill-treatment of migrant workers, finding that the so-called “tied” visa for foreign domestic workers does not provide a meaningful escape route for many migrant workers who have experienced abuse in the UK, especially those who become trapped in an abusive employment relationship.
Rachel Logan, Amnesty International UK’s Legal Programme Director, responded to the Committee’s conclusions by saying: “The UN has rightly criticised the UK’s increasingly worrying record over failing to deal with torture.
“The UK needs to get its act together in combating torture, including over how it treats torture survivors from overseas in this country.”