Victims of rape and other torture win against unlawful detention and removal

An important report by the Chief Inspector of Prisons into healthcare at Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre was published [yesterday – November 2006]. It focused on “the support and treatment of detainees with mental and traumatic stress disorders, and on issues raised by the medical case management of two female detainees (Ms A and Ms B).” The detained women were two of nearly 300 rape survivors in Yarl’s Wood Removal Centre who have contacted Black Women’s Rape Action Project (BWRAP) and Women Against Rape (WAR) since June 2005. With other organizations, BWRAP and WAR provided intensive support to the two women and others who went on hunger strike with them to protest at conditions in detention and the threat of deportation. Like Ms A and Ms B, many vulnerable women in Yarl’s Wood and other detention centres are being left without legal representation, medical or any other kind of help.

Legal Action for Women’s A “Bleak House” in Our Times, An investigation into women’s rights violations at Yarl’s Wood Removal Centre[1], to which we contributed, found that over 70% of the women detained in Yarl’s Wood were rape victims. Few are able to get specialist help for the rape they suffered and their ongoing detention, in some cases for over a year, contravenes Home Office and United Nations High Commission on Refugees guidelines that victims of torture should not be detained or fast-tracked*.

Yet, two recent victories show that women can overcome enormous obstacles and win recognition of persecution they suffered.

Ms N a rape survivor from Uganda won full refugee status. On two occasions BWRAP’s last minute interventions prevented her deportation. Ms N was imprisoned, raped and tortured in Uganda because of her political activities and fled after government soldiers murdered her husband in front of her and her children. She claimed asylum in August 2003 but was refused, despite compelling photographic evidence of her political activities. As a result of negligent legal representation, the Home Office decision was never appealed. Ms N was arrested and detained in July 2004; over seven months pregnant, she was denied daily medication and held in a filthy and unhygienic cell. As her removal date approached, three doctors signed her fit to travel despite high blood pressure and increasingly severe stomach pains. At Heathrow she suffered a barrage of racist comments from immigration officials.

BWRAP mobilized support over a weekend from maternity and other medical professionals, journalists and Heathrow MP John McDonnell. Twenty minutes before the flight was due to leave Ms N was removed from the plane and released. Later when Ms N’s daughter, who was born with a hole in the heart, was five months old, both were detained again in Yarl’s Wood for almost a week. Last week Ms N was granted full refugee status. Submissions from BWRAP confirming the trauma Ms N suffers from, other expert reports, and information on the torture suffered by other women who had been sent back to Uganda, were key to her winning her case. Ms N, an active member of the All African Women’s Group based at the Crossroads Women’s Centre, is available for interview.

Ms P, a rape survivor was detained on the fast-track* in Yarl’s Wood Removal Centre in contravention of HO and UNHCR guidelines which specify that torture victims and other people should not be detained. Ms P is from Togo and was detained and raped because of her political activities opposing the government during the 2005 election. Yet despite being a victim of torture she was detained for several months as soon as she arrived in the UK. WAR documented how her ill-treatment in detention compounded the trauma she suffered, and the Home Office was forced to concede that she was unlawfully detained.

Despite this victory the government is planning an extension of the fast track system and further cuts to legal aid which will destroy any chance of people claiming asylum putting evidence of the persecution they suffered before the authorities and receiving protection.

* Under the fast-track system, people who claim asylum are detained at the beginning of their case on the basis that the case is “straightforward” and capable of being decided quickly (usually within a few days). Few rape victims are able to properly explain or even speak at all about what happened to them in this time. There is no time for expert medical or country reports or even proper preparation of the legal case. As a result hundreds of women who have suffered rape and terrible abuse are being sent back to possible death or further torture.

[1] published December 2005

7 October 2006Tags: