Tainted Peace - Torture in Sri Lanka Since May 2009
Torture has long been used in Sri Lanka to persecute minorities, crush dissent and stifle civil society. It is deeply entrenched in the fabric of the state and has persisted across the decades regardless of changes in political leadership.
Since Freedom from Torture was established in 1985, more than 5,000 Sri Lankans exiled in the UK have been referred to us. In 2014, for the third year in a row, Sri Lanka was the top country of origin for our clients.
Our doctors' forensic reports (medico-legal reports or MLRs) of the physical and psychological consequences of torture document the ongoing suffering of people at the hands of the Sri Lankan military, police and intelligence services. Together these MLRs show that torture did not end when the fighting stopped.
Read more: Freedom From Torture, Tainted Peace, <> 13/08/2015
Yarl's Wood IRC - Not Meeting the Needs of Vulnerable Women
"Yarl's Wood has deteriorated since its last inspection and the needs of the women held have grown. In my view, decisive action is needed to ensure that women are only detained as a last resort. Other well-respected bodies have recently called for time limits on administrative detention, and the concerns we have identified provide strong support for these calls." said Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons as today he published the report of an unannounced inspection of the Immigration Removal Centre (IRC) in Bedfordshire.
Yarl's Wood IRC, managed by Serco, held 354 detainees at the time of this inspection. Most were single women but the centre also held a small number of adult families and a short-term holding facility held single men. Inspectors last visited in June 2013 and at that time concluded that the centre was improving, although significant concerns remained. This more recent inspection found that in some important areas the treatment and conditions of those held had deteriorated significantly, the main concerns from 2013 had not been resolved and there was greater evidence of the distress caused to vulnerable women by their detention. Inspectors did not find evidence of a widespread abusive or hostile culture among staff, although there were some matters of concern. Inspectors observed positive attempts by staff to ameliorate the impact of detention for those in their care, although staff numbers and training gaps limited what they could do.
Yarl's Wood had become more complex and challenging to manage since the last inspection. About 12% of detainees were ex-prisoners. Many women told inspectors harrowing stories about their histories. At best, they were distressed about their detention and the uncertainty surrounding their possible deportation.
Inspectors were concerned to find that:
- in a survey, 54% of the women held said they felt depressed or suicidal when they first arrived;
- 45% of women said they felt unsafe, saying it was due to the uncertainty of their immigration status, a poor introduction to the centre, very poor health care and having too few visible staff on the units;
- a new contract with reduced staffing levels was being introduced and inspectors were concerned that staffing levels were insufficient;
- there was no counselling service;
- staff and detainees told inspectors about a loss of mutual trust that had occurred since recent news reports;
- early days processes were weak;
- health care screening, which involved asking intimate questions, was sometimes carried out by a male nurse;
- most use of force was well managed, but inspectors were concerned about one incident in which an officer appeared to use excessive force;
- some women were detained for long periods and some of the most vulnerable women were detained without clear reason;
- 99 pregnant women had been detained in 2014, despite the Home Office's policy stating pregnant women should not normally be detained;
- Rule 35 reports, which should protect detainees who have been tortured, lacked detail and were perfunctory;
- there were still too many male staff and it was unacceptable that staff still entered women's rooms without knocking;
- health care had declined most severely, with severe staff shortages and poor local governance;
- care planning for women with complex needs was so poor it put them at risk;
- the available mental health care did not meet women's needs; and
- pharmacy services were chaotic.
- 29 recommendations from the last inspection had 'Not been achieved'
- Inspectors made 86 recommendations
In surveys and interviews, inspectors asked current detainees, former detainees and staff about sexually inappropriate behaviour between staff and detainees. Inspectors did not find evidence of widespread abuse in the centre but the vulnerability of the women held, the closed nature of the institution and the power imbalance between the staff and detainees made individual instances an ever-present risk.
Inspectors were, however, pleased to find that:
- the short-term holding facility was decent and clean, staff were professional and most of the men only stayed a few days;
- women at risk of suicide and self-harm praised the support they received from staff but other forms of support, such as counselling, were absent;
- security was generally thoughtful and proportionate and some of the most intrusive elements of physical security had been removed;
- most detainees in interviews and 80% in our survey said staff treated them with respect;
- women had good freedom of movement and recreational facilities were good;
- women reported positively on the help given to them to prepare for removal or release and a small number of voluntary organisations provided important services; and
- visits provision was good and detainees had good access to the internet.
Nick Hardwick said: "Yarl's Wood is rightly a place of national concern. We should not make the mistake of blaming this on the staff on the ground. While there have been instances of unacceptable individual behaviour, most staff work hard to mitigate the worst effects of detention and women told us they appreciated this. However, Yarl's Wood is failing to meet the needs of the most vulnerable women held. These are issues that need to be addressed at a policy and strategic management level. We have raised many of the concerns in this report before. Pregnant detainees and women with mental health problems should only be held in the most exceptional circumstances. Rule 35 should ensure that women who have been tortured or traumatised or are extremely vulnerable in other ways are not in detention. Staff should have the training and support they need to better understand the experiences of the women for whom they are responsible. There are not enough female staff. This inspection has also identified new concerns. Health care needs to improve urgently. Staffing levels as a whole are just too low to meet the needs of the population.
Download the full report < >here . . . .
Download HMCIP 'Service Improvement Plan' <>here . . . .
Hungary Building A Legal Fence – Information Note August 2015
Changes to Hungarian asylum law jeopardise access to protection in Hungary
The amendments to the Hungarian asylum legislation that enter into force on 1 August 2015 have the potential to dismantle the Hungarian asylum system and prevent refugees from having access to international protection in the country. Some provisions and policies are in breach of EU law and/or go against the clear principles established by the European Court of Human Rights or UNHCR guidance.
In 2015, the Hungarian-Serbian border section has become one of the three main entry points for irregular migrants and asylum-seekers to the EU. By early August, Hungary has registered over 103 000 asylum claims, the majority of whom from Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq. At the same time, most of them have moved on towards Western Europe in a couple of days or weeks. What is happening in Hungary with regard to asylum is a crucial challenge to the Common European Asylum System, therefore has direct impact on the entire EU and all its Member States.
The Hungarian Helsinki Committee (HHC) is deeply concerned that the present amendments will prevent refugees from accessing protection in Hungary and may lead to the de facto self-exclusion of the country from the Common European Asylum System.
Read more: Hungarian Helsinki Committee <> 07/08/2015
Yarl's Wood IRC Protest- Haunted by Harrowing Cries for Help
Harrowing cries for help came from women inside Yarl's Wood detention centre yesterday, as the largest ever protest outside the facility took place. The Set Her Free protest brought over 300 people to the site in the Bedfordshire countryside for a four-hour long protest, with speeches from previous detainees and chanting from supporters.
Movement for Justice, which holds solidarity actions with migrants in detention awaiting deportation, said this was by far their largest event held at Yarl's Wood. Organiser Antonia Bright said the day sent "a message to Serco, to the Home Office, to the border agents, to the government and to Theresa May and all of her cronies. You can't kept these women down, you can't crush our spirit, you cannot stop our fight."
Coaches from London, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Nottingham, Cardiff and Bedford brought people to the nearest point accessible by vehicles. Protesters then had to march for 15 minutes through the surrounding fields to get close to Yarl's Wood Crow and Dove wings, where hundreds of women are kept before deportation.
Read more: Morning Star, 10/08/2015
The Verne IRC - Satisfactory, But Some Improvements Necessary
The Verne had undergone significant change and had made a reasonable start, said Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons. Today he published the report of an unannounced inspection of the Immigration Removal Centre (IRC) in Dorset.
The Verne, formerly a prison, has been an Immigration Removal Centre since September 2014. This was its first inspection as an IRC. During the inspection, 575 adult men were held. Over half of those detained had previously been in prison following criminal convictions. Outcomes for detainees at this early stage were mixed.
Inspectors were concerned to find that:
- levels of violence were too high, some of the violence was serious and strategies to tackle violence lacked sophistication;
- arrangements to support those at risk of self-harm required improvement;
- unusually for an IRC, there was clear evidence of the availability of new psychoactive substances and illicit alcohol;
- some legitimate restrictions had temporarily been put in place to deal with these problems, but others were less justified;
- The Verne remained too prison-like in character for an IRC, with too much inner fencing and razor wire and a high use of separation;
- the quality of Rule 35 reports, which assess the fitness of possible victims of torture for detention, was variable;
- many detainees struggled to obtain representation to fight their cases; and
- the remoteness of The Verne made visits very difficult for many families, though visits facilities were good.
- - Inspectors made 70 recommendations
Inspectors were pleased to find that:
- detainees were received well into the centre, despite many experiencing long and often overnight journeys to get there;
- few detainees reported feeling unsafe;
- use of force was not excessive and the use of body cameras by managers was a useful measure;
vthe majority of detainees were held for less than two months, but there were some excessive stays;
- detainees were very positive about their treatment by staff;
- standards of accommodation were reasonable, health provision was reasonable for most and the needs of those with protected characteristics were recognised early;
- freedom of movement for detainees was reasonable, lasting about 12 hours a day;
- there were enough activity places on offer and more were planned, with useful education and vocational training available; and
- the approach to the assessment of detainees' welfare needs was promising.
Nick Hardwick said: "Overall, The Verne was operating satisfactorily. However, despite considerable efforts to prepare the institution for its new role, the environment and staff culture reflected an institution that had not yet come to terms with its new function as an IRC. There was too much violence and there were a number of operational challenges to address if safety was to be improved. Some detainees were held for long periods and safeguards such as Rule 35 procedures were not working well enough. The centre was a reasonably respectful place and detainees were reasonably well occupied, but more needed to be done to improve communications both within the centre and between detainees and their families."
Download the full report here . . . .
Officials Deporting Migrants by Nationality 'To Fill Charter Flights'
Border officials have been criticised after it emerged they target specific nationalities for deportation in order to fill up flights they have chartered. Activists said the practice led the government to remove people who still have active legal claims. Documents seen by the Guardian show the Home Office team that manages the flights, and the team that picks up people suspected of living in the country illegally, work together to target people of a specific nationality if there is a flight due to go to their home country. They target people already in immigration removal centres, as well as those living at home if necessary, to fill as many seats as possible, it is understood. In doing so, the government has deported many people who have applied for judicial review of their cases.
Read more: Kevin Rawlinson, Guardian, <> 10/08/2015
Don't Believe the Press – Britain is Far From a Refugee Magnet
There is little sympathy for the refugees languishing in inhumane conditions in Calais, either from the mainstream press or much of British public opinion. "Migrant Runs 30 Miles Through Channel," booms the Express, referring to a Sudanese refugee who almost made it through the entire Channel tunnel. "We kept out Hitler," offers the ever level-headed Daily Mail. "Why can't our feeble leaders stop a few thousand exhausted migrants?"
Even among progressive-minded people, there are reservations about those who have fled horrifying circumstances in Syria, Eritrea, Darfur, Afghanistan and other countries terrorised by war or dictatorship. Why don't they simply seek refuge in countries neighbouring their own? What compels them to travel thousands of miles, across multiple borders, in order to make a new life on British soil? François Hollande's France is hardly a war-torn dystopia, so why not stay there?
The first point is that the vast majority of refugees don't come anywhere near western Europe. Indeed, as the UNHCR points out, 86% of all refugees are in developing countries. That's a dramatic surge from 70% just a decade ago. About one in four refugees are from Syria: 95 out of every 100 of them are in a neighbouring country. Turkey – whose GDP per capita is about four times less than that of Britain – hosts nearly 1.6 million refugees, more than any other country. Lebanon, which has a population of less than 4.5 million, has up to 1.5 million Syrian refugees. Countries with far fewer resources than Britain are taking in many more refugees.
Read more: Owen Jones, Guardian, <>07/08/2015