UK

Asylum seekers 'wait two years' for torture medical exam

A doctor takes a patient's blood pressure Image copyright PA

Asylum seekers in the UK who claim to be torture victims are facing two-year delays to be examined because doctors are "overwhelmed" by caseloads, a report says.

The borders watchdog said there was "no evidence" the Home Office was setting reasonable time limits for cases.

In one case, a person who applied for asylum in December 2014 was given a medical assessment date in August 2017.

The Home Office said it "accepts, or partially accepts" the findings.

The report by Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration David Bolt also said the rising number of asylum claims "posed a risk" to the efficiency and effectiveness of the system.

"Between 1 June and 30 August 2015, the Home Office received almost 50% more claims (9,529) than in the corresponding period in 2014 (6,695)," it said.

Image copyright Home Office
Image caption David Bolt became Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration last year

The report, which looked into asylum casework between March and July last year, said one way to get independent verification of torture was a "Medico-legal Report" (MLR) by a specially trained medical worker following an examination.

Home Office guidance says such reports should be obtained within five months of a case being put on hold to await an MLR.

But inspectors said: "The only two organisations (the Helen Bamber Foundation and Freedom from Torture) recognised by the Home Office as able to provide independent verification of torture resulting in release from detention were overwhelmed by the volume of applications for an MLR."

'Uncertainty'

Home Office data showed 452 applicants were released from the Detained Fast Track scheme - though not necessarily released from detention - in 2014-15 having obtained an appointment with the Helen Bamber Foundation or Freedom from Torture.

But the report said its sample of 15 asylum seekers "indicated that claimants faced lengthy delays, typically around two years, before an MLR could be provided".

It said the Home Office's five-month target was not "grounded in reality" and those affected faced a "lengthy period of uncertainty".

It added: "The longer the wait, the greater the likelihood the claimant will acquire alternative rights to remain, for example on the basis of having established a family life in the UK."

Mr Bolt's report made nine recommendations, including that the Home Office should "review the arrangements for handling claims of torture".

"We are committed to treating all asylum claimants with respect and dignity, and we will continue to improve on current practice in this area," said the Home Office.

Freedom from Torture said the vast majority of its reports are produced within the agreed five-month timescale.

Director of policy and advocacy Sonya Sceats said: "Our reports go through a very rigorous medical and legal review process. We regard the report by the chief inspector of borders and immigration as misleading in respect of our MLRs and we will be bringing this to his attention."

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