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30th November 2006 - A doctor visiting detainees at Harmondsworth and Colnbrook detention centres has described the extent of negligence and care asylum seekers experience.

Dr Frank Arnold, 58, has independantly examined more than 150 patients who have survived torture in their countries of origin and has seen patients in Harmondsworth and Colnbrook since July 2005.

By Alex Ali This is Local London Thursday 30th November 2006

A doctor visiting detainees at Harmondsworth and Colnbrook detention centres has described the extent of negligence and care asylum seekers experience.

Dr Frank Arnold, 58, has independantly examined more than 150 patients who have survived torture in their countries of origin and has seen patients in Harmondsworth and Colnbrook since July 2005.

Speaking exclusively to the Hillingdon Times, Dr Arnold described the conditions in which 550 men seeking asylum are held a Harmondsworth.

He said: "I am not a psychiatrist but there is a whole body of work, particularly from Australia, that shows that both the detention of detainees is extremely harmful to mental health and that many of the people that are detained have post traumatic stress disorder.

"The incedents of depression are enormous and mental health resources are totally inadequate."

Dr Arnold said independant doctors are obstructed when visiting patients.

He said: "I have had to see patients in the legal rooms, where detainees see their lawyers. It's wholly inappropriate.

"Last Saturday I went to visit a man who had TB and we had to use an interpreter down the phone to communicate as the man, who had lost a lot of weight, did not speak English.

"We had to pass the phone handset back and forth between us and I didn't know what kind of tuberculosis he had. This arrangement carries a risk of transmission of TB.

"I can only conclude that the staff at the centre don't use interpreters, despite what they said to the prison inspectorate, or that they have not thought about the risk to themselves which is not sane.

"How am I supposed to find out if someone is ill working under these conditions?"

Dr Arnold also alleges staff at Harmondsworth and Colnbrook do not investigate claims by asylum seekers that they have been subjected to torture.

In a medical legal report on a gay Muslim man seeking asylum in the UK, he said: "The Colnbrook medical notes show no evidence that the clinicians looking after him in detention have examined him adequately, or if they have, that the responsible individuals have recognised the stigmata of torture and other serious medical problems."

The victim of torture in this instance was kidnapped, burned with cigarettes, sexually assaulted and stabbed over three days.

"When he reported the incident to police in his native country, he was detained in a tiny cell for three months, where he had cold water thrown on him, was handcuffed with his hands behind him, suspended from a door frame, raped, whipped and beaten. His mother then paid a bribe to secure his release."

In the same report, Dr Arnold states: "The Home Office operation enforcement manual is explicit that torture survivors should not be detained unless under exceptional circumstance.

"If an asylum seeker is detained, Home Office case officers are wholly dependent on the medical practitioners employed by the detention centre to record and pass on the information when their history and physical findings are consistent with a diagnosis of torture.

"If they do not or cannot do so, or their findings are ignored, the Home Office will be unable to comply with its own humane rules."

Dr Arnold believes the stereotyping of asylum seekers has severly affected their chances of being granted asylum.

In a scathing attack on the Home Office, he says: "The automatic assumption, particularly regarding black people when they arrive, is all too often that they are not going to get asylum and the Home Office goes to great lengths to discredit any evidence they present, 99 per cent of claimants on the fast track system are refused asylum.

"Until the Home Office changes its prejudice then this kind of abuse will continue to be very, very frequent.

"Patients are from time to time are taken to Hillingdon Hospital and the doctors and nurses do not insist that the handcuffs be removed.

"I had a patient like this fairly recently who is 5ft2", has severe arthritis in his hips and knees, sickle cell disease, and can barely walk, let alone run, and his examination was inadequate because he was shackled to the guard throughout.

"I urged the clinician to look again at what had happened to him."

Steve Ballinger, a spokesman for Amnesty International, said: "It's important to remember that many asylum seekers are being locked up even though they have committed no crime - they have simply applied for asylum."

And Anne Owers, chief inspector of Her Majesty's prisons, said: "Harmondsworth is not an easy place to run and the serious disturbance it had experienced had clearly effected the confidence of managers and staff.

"However, it had been allowed to slip into and a culture and approach which was wholly at odds with its stated purpose and inimical to the proper care and treatment of detainees. "

Owen Bassett, a Home Office spokesman, said: "We don't detain people lightly and each case is considered carefully.

"It is vital that this is done with humanity and dignity and we are committed to considering this in each case."

"Every allegation of inappropriate mistreatment against detainees is investigated where there is an allegation of assault. Where inappropriate use of force is alleged, it is referred to the police and there is a comprehensive complaints system in place.

"In relation to torture there are strict guidelines for those who may have been victims of torture and humanitarian aid for those who may not have been victims of torture but would be at risk if they return to their countries."