UK may return tortured asylum seekers to country they fled, says immigration minister

Jon Stone
Asylum seekers ‘must show there is a real risk of serious harm or persecution if they return to their country’

The Government does not consider a person having been tortured in the country they are fleeing reason enough alone to accept a claim of asylum, the immigration minister has said.

Robert Goodwill told a parliamentary debate on torture that not all proven survivors of past torture “automatically qualify for protection” if they cannot produce additional evidence that they would be at risk of further serious harm upon being sent back to where they had fled.

The minister clarified the Government’s policy on people fleeing torture in a debate in Parliament’s Westminster Hall. MPs called for the debate after a report released late last year said the Home Office immigration authorities were ignoring or mishandling serious torture evidence.

The Freedom From Torture organisation accused the Government of “egregious mishandling of medical evidence”. It had examined 50 cases over a two-year period, from January 2014 to December 2015.

The organisation’s research also found that appeal judges were having to correct the Home Office’s decisions, with 76 per cent of cases involving torture going to appeal being overturned in favour of the applicant.

On Thursday Mr Goodwill said: “When considering asylum claims made in the UK it is absolutely right that we offer protection to those who face torture on the return to their country.

“However, this does not mean that all survivors of past torture will automatically qualify for protection. An individual needs to show there is a real risk of serious harm or persecution on return to their home country.

“In some cases that situation in a country can become normalised so indeed that situation can change. Indeed we welcome when conflict finishes in countries around the world.”

Of the appealed cases being so regularly overturned the minister said the Home Office wanted to get more cases “right first time” and that all staff received “extensive training” but that it was “committed to continuous improvement”.

He confirmed that it was the view of the British government that “torture has no place anywhere in the world”.

The row over torture is one of the latest in a string of controversies about the UK’s asylum system.

The Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration warned last year that asylum seekers who say they have been tortured are facing two-year delays to be medically examined because doctors are “overwhelmed” by caseload.

A Home Affairs Select Committee report released a month ago found that asylum seekers coming to the UK have been placed in accommodation infested with rats, mice, and bedbugs.

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