Sunday, March 14, 2010

UK/US Asylum Seekers Find Death, Abuse, and Criminal Indifference

Also posted at The Public Record

An article in the March 14 UK Observer reports that United Kingdom's asylum immigration system is systematically denying claims of torture by asylum applicants, despite ample medical evidence by applicants of torture in their home countries. Since 2001, many asylum applicants have been sent to prison, with murderers and rapists, despite the fact they have never broken any law, making Britain the only European Union country to have such a practice.
Sonya Sceats, a spokeswoman for one charity that carries out medical assessments for the government, told the Observer: "It's very clear there is a systemic and increasing problem here. The corollary of their dismissal of independent medical evidence is that the protection [asylum] claim is invariably rejected and this means a survivor of torture is at risk of being returned to further torture or at risk of detention."

The allegations come in the wake of strong criticism last week of the UK Border Agency, which was condemned for failing to investigate claims of mistreatment by failed asylum seekers in abuse allegations up to July 2008. Ministers now plan to review the use of force against asylum seekers by British security guards after a Border Agency report on abuse conceded that serious injuries were suffered by detainees who had been handcuffed or physically restrained.
Such claims of mistreatment by asylum applicants, imprisoned by the British government, despite proof of torture, include a Zimbabwean woman, currently on hunger strike at Yarl's Wood detention center, Bedfordshire, who had been raped and beaten in Zimbabwe, and still bears copious scars of the multiple stabbings on both arms. She also alleges racist abuse by the British prison guards. A Congolese woman, who also had suffered multiple rapes and beatings in her home country, "claimed to have suffered "medical abuse" and had anxiety attacks after witnessing a naked woman dragged from her room in Yarl's Wood by private security guards, claims robustly denied by the Home Office."
"Everybody was shocked," she said. "She had no clothes on and she was photographed. I still get flashbacks."
The story follows a UK Guardian report from last week, when three Kosovo nationals leaped to their deaths from a Glascow apartment building. The Kosovoan nationals -- two men and one woman -- were asylum applicants who had their claims of asylum rejected from the UK government. [See Update/Correction at end of this posting.]

The level of desperation, as well as abuse, suffered by UK asylum seekers was documented in an Institute of Race Relations (IRR) report in September 2006, Driven to Desperate Measures (PDF).
THE IRR has catalogued a roll call of death of the 221 asylum seekers and migrants who have died either in the UK or attempting to reach the UK in the past seventeen years.*

97 died taking dangerous and highly risky methods to enter the country. With legal barriers in place to prevent them securing visas or work permits to enter legally and sanctions applying to above-board carriers, the desperate stow away on planes and lorries or attempt to cross the channel in makeshift boats or cling to trains. The number recorded here is probably only a fraction of those who have died in this way. Our figures rely on news reports and by virtue of the subject matter these deaths are not news.

70 died as an indirect consequence of the iniquities of the immigration/asylum system - either by taking their own lives when claims were not allowed, or by meeting accidental deaths evading deportation, or during the deportation itself, or by being prevented medical care, through becoming destitute in the UK.

Of these:

- 57 died at their own hand, preferring this to being returned to the country they fled, when asylum claims were turned down. And compounding the process is the fact that some of those in detention and known to be traumatised and particularly vulnerable appear not to have been provided with the medical (especially psychiatric) support they needed.

- 4 died accidentally as, in terror at what they presumed to be the arrival of deportation officials, they took evasive action.

- 1 person died during the deportation process itself, when she was asphyxiated as officers used 13 feet of tape to subdue and quieten her.

- 2 people died after being deported back to a country where they feared for their safety. The actual number is certainly far higher.

- 5 people died because of being denied healthcare for preventable medical problems.

- 1 person died destitute and unable to access services.

4 died in prison, police or psychiatric custody, where racist stereotypes appeared to induce the use of reckless control and restraint methods or where there appeared to be medical neglect.

32 died in the course of carrying out work, which, by virtue of its being part of the 'black economy' carried particular dangers and few protective rights. (The numbers listed here are probably a gross underestimate, as work-related deaths of people who are 'illegal' will often go unreported in the media.)

18 died on the streets of our cities at the hands of racists or as a consequence of altercations with a racial dimension. Often the victims had been moved, via the government's dispersal system, to areas where they were particularly isolated and vulnerable to attack.
Great Britain is not alone in treating asylum seekers with injustice. In the United States, the selection of the administrative judges who rule on asylum cases has been politicized, with dire results. In a Stanford Law Review article a few years back, "Refugee Roulette: Disparities in Asylum Adjudication", after studying hundreds of thousands of asylum cases decided by asylum officers, immigration judges, the Board of Immigration Appeal and the U.S. Courts of Appeal, the study found "significant disparities in grant rates, even when different adjudicators in the same office each considered large numbers of applications from nationals of the same country."

As in the UK, not much has changed in the United States as well, with over a quarter of all immigration judges appointed during the Bush-Cheney years. But even before that, a San Jose Mercury News investigation in 2000 found vast disparities in the way asylum applicants were treated by the system. As a report by VisaLaw explained it:
The study... reveals what many instinctively knew about the asylum process – that whether a person is granted asylum depends less on the merits of the person’s case and more on the judge before whom they present their case. The paper examined 176,465 cases that came before the 219 Immigration Judges between 1995 and 1999.

Some judges granted asylum in half of the cases they heard, while other judges granted asylum in less than two percent of cases. Some judges even routinely deny asylum to applicants from countries such as Bosnia and Somalia, where conditions mean that most applicants are granted asylum.
Situation Scandalous in the United States

Of course, like Great Britain, the United States imprisons some of their asylum applicants, many of them torture victims, in public and private prisons throughout the country. Approximately 50,000 asylum seekers were placed in penal detention in the United States from 2003 to 2009. Detention retraumatizes the tortured, and prevents the asylum applicant from making a proper case for their claims. As a Human Rights First study (PDF) in 2009 explained it:
Six years after DHS and its interior immigration enforcement component, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (known as “ICE”) took over responsibility for immigration detention, the U.S. system for detaining asylum seekers is more flawed than ever.... In 2007 alone, more than 10,000 asylum seekers were newly detained in the United States. They are held in facilities that are actual jails or are operated like jails. They are often brought in handcuffs and sometimes shackles to these facilities, where they wear prison uniforms, are guarded by officers in prison attire, visit with family and friends only through glass barriers, and have essentially no freedom of movement within the facilities. The cost of detaining these asylum seekers over the past six years has exceeded $300 million. During that time, ICE parole policies have become more restrictive, and parole rates for asylum seekers dropped from 41.3 percent in 2004 to 4.2 percent in 2007. ICE has not provided Congressionally-mandated statistics—detailing the number of asylum seekers detained, the length of their detention, and the rates of their release—in a timely or complete manner. The U.S. detention system for asylum seekers, which lacks crucial safeguards, is inconsistent with international refugee protection and human rights standards.
Those who flee torture, rape, and political or social persecution and seek protection in another country are among the most vulnerable population on the planet. The HRF report in particular documents the punitive policy of ICE towards torture victims:
Previously, it was ICE policy to “favor release of aliens who have been granted protection by an immigration judge” when the decision was being appealed by the government. However, the new parole directive issued by ICE in November 2007 rescinded prior parole guidelines— including this guidance.

Even when ICE is not appealing an immigration judge’s ruling, some refugees and other immigrants who have been found eligible for other forms of protection have been detained for several additional months. For example, some individuals who were granted relief under the Convention Against Torture—because they had shown that they were more likely than not to be victims of torture if returned to their home countries—were detained by ICE for an additional 90 days even after the judge granted them relief. Attorneys in Arizona, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, and Minnesota report that this is “often” the case in their areas. In Arizona and Florida, individuals who were determined by the U.S. to be “refugees” and were granted “withholding of removal”—and who therefore cannot be returned to the country in which they fear persecution— have also sometimes been detained for up to an additional 90 days.
Meanwhile, over 90 immigration detainees have died since ICE took over administration of the system in 2003, at least a dozen of them suicides.

Something is very wrong with a country when it treats its least powerful, most vulnerable members in such a disgraceful way. But what we hear from politicians in the UK and the United States is more often jingoistic and racist invective against "immigrants", and the population as a whole either turns away from this issue, poisoned with prejudice, or simply are ignorant of the stories of these individuals who live in their midst, but are hardly ever reported.

As a conclusion, I ask readers to consider just two stories from the HRF report, describing this terrible tragedy enacted every day by the U.S. government:
A Colombian refugee, who had been jailed, beaten, and tortured for participating in a political demonstration in Colombia, was detained in a U.S. immigration jail in Arizona for 14 months, including for over eight months after an Immigration Judge had ruled that he was eligible for asylum. The ICE attorney who had argued against the refugee’s asylum request appealed the judge’s decision to the Board of Immigration Appeals. ICE refused to release the asylum seeker while the appeal was pending. ICE denied his request for parole, even though the man had both a U.S. citizen daughter and a U.S. citizen father. He was finally released after eight additional months in detention, over two weeks after the Board of Immigration Appeals affirmed the judge’s decision granting him asylum.

* * * *

A Sri Lankan fisherman, who was a victim of kidnapping by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), was detained for 30 months in the United States while ICE opposed his request for asylum on the ground that his payment of his ransom consisted “material support” to the armed group. When he was finally released from detention pending a decision by the Board of Immigration Appeals, he was placed into a restrictive supervision program. He was fitted with an ankle bracelet and initially required to report on a monthly basis. Eventually, this was reduced to in-person reporting every six months. After nearly two years of compliance with all reporting requirements, following his 30 months of detention, the fisherman is still required to wear a large ankle bracelet and is subject to home visits.
Correction/Update:

This story reported that the suicides of three individuals in Glasgow were Kosovo nationals. Later reports have identified the individuals who died in the leap off the 15th story of an apartment building as Serguei Serykh, 43, his wife Tatiana and Mr. Serykh's adult stepson. A BBC story on March 13 said the family had previously been granted political asylum in Canada, but had left after an some kind of dispute with authorities there. They had recently been denied an application for asylum in the UK, and on the day they died had received a letter that they would lose their apartment, although no order for removal had yet been filed. Extrapolating from a Globe and Mail report on March 10, it appears possible that Mr. Serykh suffered from a serious mental illness.

The suicides of these desperate individuals have brought organized protests in Scotland, with marchers calling for an end to the "enforced removal of refugee families," according to the BBC report. A later article by the UK Guardian quotes the director of the Glasgow charity Positive Action in Housing, Robina Qureshi, as saying the family's death could not be attributed to psychological issues, but UK asylum policy. "The Serykhs were considered credible in Canada," Qureshi said. "Shouldn't that be good enough for us? They were going to be out on the street, destitute. What would that do to your mental state?"

1 comment:

braam said...

well done for focusing on these obvious human right violations and please continue in following these issues

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