Nov 25, 2016

UK asylum policy under fire for ‘demanding the impossible’ from victims

Britain has come under heavy criticism from a top human rights organisation for turning down torture victim claims for protection even when presented with credible medical evidence, while the country's judiciary has ordered the government to review its asylum policy.

In a damning report exposing how the British Home Office mistreats expert medical evidence in deciding applications for asylum, Freedom from Torture (FFT) accuses British authorities of ‘demanding the impossible’ from torture survivors.

The only UK-based human rights organisation dedicated to the treatment and rehabilitation of torture survivors, FFT says that it offers services across England and Scotland to around 1,000 torture survivors a year.

FFT has researched cases of people from 14 different countries of origin, where the majority are from three countries: Sri Lanka, Iran and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), for its latest report ‘Proving Torture Demanding the impossible’.

The 79-page report says that torture survivors seeking asylum in the UK can find it almost impossible to prove their ordeal to British authorities, at a time a British high court judge ordered the government to review its policy on detained torture survivors.

High court ruling

The ruling on 21 November by Justice Duncan Ouseley called upon the Home Office to immediately provide relief to detainees and to release survivors of torture from countries such as Afghanistan, Nigeria and Sri Lanka.

Hundreds of asylum seekers who have been tortured in countries including Sri Lanka unable to prove their plight have been detained when claiming asylum in the UK.

FFT in its report highlights several cases where survivors seeking asylum in the UK can find it almost impossible to prove to the Home Office that they were tortured.

“This happens even when they present extensive expert medical evidence, which is often disregarded or mistreated. The Home Office frequently demands a level of certainty in this evidence that is unattainable, going far beyond the legal standard of proof that applies to asylum claims.”

The report warns that ‘being disbelieved and having their medical evidence mishandled can be catastrophic for torture survivors’.

Tamils tortured on return

Many Tamils who survived torture at the hands of Sri Lanka military and police officers and failed their asylum claim in the UK have met the same fate when returned to Sri Lanka, as recorded by several rights organisations.

The FFT report illustrates flaws of the British policy by highlighting several cases where the asylum rejection by the British Home Office had been overturned by the judiciary.

In its recommendations, FFT calls for an independent and public international review of the British Asylum policy.

“An independent public audit should be undertaken by a body with the requisite legal expertise, such as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, into the application in practice of the standard of proof in asylum claims in the UK, including cases involving expert medical evidence of torture.”

(by Indika Gamage -

(Except for the headline, this story, originally published by has not been edited by SLM staff)