Duncan Campbell, The Guardian, Monday 10 March 2008
The case of an asylum seeker who was raped and tortured in her native Cameroon could have far-reaching legal implications for others making the same claims whose applications for asylum have been refused. Although the case was resolved last month, details were only published in the high court on Friday, and it has been welcomed by organisations in the field.
The woman concerned, who can be identified only as PB, arrived in the UK in 2006 and was held at Yarl's Wood detention centre, near Bedford. In the course of her interview to assess her grounds for asylum status, she gave details of torture she said she had suffered at the hands of gendarmes in Cameroon. She said she had been kicked, slapped, beaten with electric cables and made to crawl through cold water in a cell.
Under existing guidelines, she should have been referred to the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture (MF) to see whether there was evidence to support her claims. This did not happen and instead she was seen only by a nurse. Her application was rejected, as was her appeal, and she was due to be deported in January last year.
She was put in touch with a representative of Women Against Rape (WAR), to whom she spoke about being raped by a prison guard in Cameroon. Her deportation was stayed and she was examined by a member of MF, who found her injuries consistent with her claims, but her application was again rejected in May last year.
However, following a judicial review of her case, she was released from detention and will now receive damages estimated at £15,000* for unlawful detention because of the length of time she was held without having the correct examination. Deputy high court judge Kenneth Parker QC said he believed a report soon after PB had been detained would have provided evidence of torture and probably resulted in her release from detention.
"[The] ruling is a fantastic victory and sets a crucial precedent for many other women in detention," said a WAR spokeswoman yesterday. "Like PB, many women have had their cases fast-tracked and been detained, denied legal representation, medical and other expert help, and implementation of the Home Office's own rules which should have secured their release.
"Instead, women, and often their children, suffer months imprisoned in terrible circumstances and many are sent back to the countries they fled, often never having had the help they needed to report rape, or to gather evidence needed to challenge the routine dismissal of rape as grounds for asylum."
A Home Office spokesman said: "We are committed to a fair and compassionate asylum system. Where a review of our procedures in a particular case shows that we need to do things differently we will learn those lessons."
*Ms PB's compensation was raised to £38 000