Page last updated at 12:58 GMT, Wednesday, 10 December 2008

UK 'failing' victims of torture

By Angus Crawford
BBC News

Torture victim Maria
Maria says her flat is infested with rats
The way the UK treats victims of torture may breach international law, says a British charity.

Many victims are placed in accommodation not fit to live in, claims the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture.

Residents complain of infestations of rats and bed bugs and repairs which never get completed.

The Home Office denies the claims and says it provides "safe and habitable accommodation to all those seeking refuge".

Maria lives in a small flat with her two boys, aged six and three.

She says she was tortured and cannot go back to her home in Africa and does not want to use her real name.

Her sons have not been sleeping in their bedroom.

Maria says: "It's so cold, there's bed bugs and there's rats... when they sleep there, the rats get on to the bed."

That means all three of them now sleep, eat and play in the main room which is just big enough to fit two single beds joined together.

She says there are blood stains on the grimy wall above the bed.

"The bed bugs climb up the wall, one was just above my head so I squashed it," she says.

"Once the youngest one had a nose bleed and then one of these bugs came out of the nose."

I don't feel secure, I check more than three times before I go to sleep, anyone could come into the house at any time
Torture victim Marc, 28

There is a radiator in each room but they do not work, so even though the temperature is below freezing outside, Maria has just one small electric heater for the whole flat.

She shares the kitchen with another family. There are mouse droppings by the food and the microwave does not work.

Maria says her sons are very stressed by the "prison-like conditions" and have asked her how long they have to live like this.

Asylum seekers like Maria are placed in accommodation by the Home office, which has contracts with private landlords across the UK.

Fellow African Marc lives in another location but tells a similar story.

The 28-year-old says he was tortured by soldiers and feared his life would be in danger if he went home.

Cases 'not isolated'

He has one room in a terraced house and has to share a bathroom and kitchen.

The lock on the front door has been broken for eight months and he does not know when it will be repaired.

"I don't feel secure, I check more than three times before I go to sleep, anyone could come into the house at any time," he says.

When he lifts a carpet, cockroaches swarm out from underneath. Some scuttle into the kitchen, where there are mouse droppings in the cupboards.

At one point a man in a room on the ground floor was dealing drugs.

Bugs
Maria says the flat is infested with bugs

The charity believes Maria and Marc are not isolated cases.

Policy and advocacy officer Sonya Sceats said the government is not getting value for money from its contracts with private landlords

"They set out very high standards and these standards are simply not being met by these providers," she says.

As well as that she fears Britain may be in breach of international law.

"The UK is party to treaties that include the right to an adequate standard of housing.. the sorts of examples we're talking about fall short," she says.

The Home office has rejected those arguments.

A spokesman said: "We're committed to a fair and compassionate asylum system, which means providing safe and habitable accommodation to all those seeking refuge.

"Anyone going through the asylum process is provided with housing that is compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

"Our accommodation providers are subject to regular review and we will take appropriate steps where there is evidence that standards are not being met."

Maria though said her landlord simply does not answer the phone, which leaves her and her children to cope as best as they can.

"This is a rich country, I never expected we would be living in the same conditions as my country," she says.

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SEE ALSO
Torture victims' centre opens
03 Feb 04 |  Manchester
Handbook for torture victims
28 Mar 00 |  Politics

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