Select Committee on Home Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum by the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture


  1.  The Medical Foundation is an independent charity that undertakes therapeutic work with survivors of torture and organised violence and their families. Our clinicians, including psychiatrists, psychologists, physiotherapists and counsellors work with clients. Caseworkers also provide practical assistance and support. The majority of our patients are asylum seekers and refugees although our current patients include former Far-East prisoners of war, holocaust survivors and survivors of the bombing in Omagh. Over 16,000 survivors of torture have been referred to us since we opened in 1986 and last year we received over 3,000 new referrals. Our studies on country situations, and clinical examinations and documentation of individual cases, are invoked in the assessment of asylum applications. We train those involved in the asylum determination procedure and the care of torture survivors both in the UK and overseas. Our expertise and experience are recognised by the Home Office. You will find express reference to us in the Asylum Directorate Instructions to Caseworkers (Section 17), and we are represented on, inter alia, the Immigration and Nationality User Panel.


  2.  The Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture notes that the UK is signatory to the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, Article 14(l) of which states "Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution." The UK is also a State Party to the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees, and was present at the 1999 Tampere European council, which stated in its conclusion its commitment to "the full and inclusive application" of that Convention, Article 31(l) of that Convention protects refugees' flight to sanctuary.

  3.  In our report Staying Alive by Accident: Torture survivors from Turkey in the UK (Medical Foundation, February 1999) we analysed the journeys of 14 torture survivors from Turkey. Of these 14, six came by air, four of them flying direct. The rest came overland. Only one was able to organise and finance his journey himself. Ten used the services of an agent to travel. In six cases there are records of substantial sums having been paid. We have records of the travel documents used in 12 cases: false documents were used by six (two of these six returned them to the agent organising the journey), two used their own passports, and four (all travelling overland) had no documents at all. Of the 14, six claimed asylum at the port of entry. Note that in the 10 cases where the refugee passed through intermediate countries, it was nonetheless held to be appropriate that their case be considered in the UK. All 14 studies were recognised as refugees by the government of the United Kingdom. It is thus unsurprising that we concur with the words of Lord Justice Simon Brown, in the landmark judgement in R v Uxbridge Magistrates Court ex parte Adimi and others (29 July 1999, CO/2533/98, CO/3007/98, CO/2472/98 and CO/ll67/99): "The need for Article 31 has not diminished. Quite the contrary."

  4.  Physical barriers at ports of entry do not per se place a torture survivor seeking asylum from persecution at risk. The interests of the State in knowing exactly who is in the country, and what is their immigration status, and those of the survivor of torture in being recognised as a refugee and knowing as soon as possible that s/he has found sanctuary as soon as possible are not necessarily incompatible.

  5.  However, as is clear from the debates on the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, both these entirely legitimate interests are subordinated to the illegitimate goal of preventing those seeking asylum from reaching our shores. Part II of the Immigration and Asylum Act and in particular the definition of a clandestine entrant in Section 32(1) is significant in this regard. It makes no distinction between the person who is visible and claims asylum on entry and the person who is hidden suggesting that the detection and identification of those entering the country is not a high priority for government. Section 32(l) provides a perverse disincentive for the carrier. To yield up the person carried at the port will render them liable for a £2,000 fine which they might evade if the person is not detected.

  6.  Thus it appears that physical controls at ports of entry are being used not for their own sake, but in order to shore up carriers' liability. Carriers' liability is one method, along with visa controls, and an increase in the number of what Britain calls Airline Liaison Officers (ALOs), ie, officials stationed abroad to train airline staff to prevent those with "inadequate documentation" from boarding, of preventing asylum seekers from reaching our shores. The use of physical controls at ports of departure is a recent addition to this panoply of methods.

  7.  The Medical Foundation is concerned at how these measures affect those fleeing persecution and torture in their own countries. On-going research into cases of Sri Lankan torture survivors at the Medical Foundation reveals that the presence of scarring places them at risk if picked up by the authorities in their country. Scarring, regardless of cause, is treated as evidence of involvement with the Tamil Tigers. In such circumstances, to station Airline Liaison Officers in Sri Lanka appears not only to create a risk that survivors of torture will be unable to flee further persecution, but that they will be brought to the attention of their persecutors.

  8.  Making it more difficult for people to travel and gain admission to places of safety will not of itself reduce the number of those needing to flee torture and persecution. Preventing someone from fleeing a country where they are at risk of torture violates our international obligations and runs contrary to Ministerial statements that the UK will protect those seeking asylum from persecution. Preventing someone from fleeing an intermediate country may violate that right if the intermediate country will refoule them to a place where they face torture. It may also violate their other rights under the 1951 Refugee Convention if the level of protection in that country does not satisfy the standards laid down in that Convention.

  9.  Meanwhile while steps are increasingly taken that trap people in countries where their rights will be violated, there is no indication that the movement of persons is decreasing. All the methods of making flight more difficult play into the hands of those who develop, for profit, a monopoly on sophisticated operations to evade such controls (eg false documentation, circuitous routes, networks of carriers, means of exploiting the person once they reach their destination) which are then used not only by those fleeing torture and persecution and seeking asylum, but by other migrants including persons who do not come to the attention of the authorities once they arrive whether by claiming asylum or otherwise.


  10.  The Medical Foundation is concerned that the health implications of the use of X-ray scanners should be subject to careful investigation. Those operating the equipment should be questioned as to the intensity of the rays used to do this. The Committee should take independent expert evidence on the effects of the stated doses of X-rays on anyone in the vehicle, drivers and operators of the equipment.

11 April 2000

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 31 January 2001