Why are we are fighting to end the Detained Fast Track?

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Just in case you were wondering why we’re continuing our legal challenge against the Detained Fast Track, this article from last year’s ‘State of Detention‘ report, written by Sharif of the Freed Voices group, offers a chilling reminder: 

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I am a survivor of torture from a North African country. I arrived in the UK on a student visa. I had never heard of ‘Fast Track’. People told me “if you contact the Home Office, they try to send you back to your torturers.” I know it is a wrong thing to say, but I wish I had listened to them. They were right.

After I sent a letter to the Home Office they arranged for my screening interview. It lasted ten minutes. The man asking me questions was racing through it….yalla, yalla, yalla, quick, quick, quick. What is your nationality? Have you had your fingerprints taken? Where are your family? Nothing about my torture. Nothing about my health record.  Nothing about if I was fit for detention. Nothing about ‘Fast Track’.

One week later they moved me to Harmondsworth IRC. After another week, they told me I had an interview. They didn’t say what it was for or who would be doing it. But when I heard the word ‘interview’ I thought it was people coming to see me, to help me, to talk to me, to find out why I needed assistance. Nobody said anything about the ‘Fast Track’.

For the interview, my solicitor had an interpreter but so did the Home Office. The Home Office interpreter was from another North African country, not mine. From the first question, I could see this was going to be a fight. I was not expecting it. My interviewer harassed me. He was aggressive. He asked 170 questions, over 3 or 4 hours. It was like he was beating me with questions. And every time I spoke he told me to ‘hurry up’. He didn’t give me the chance to tell my story. He had already decided what my story was. I felt completely helpless. At this moment I understood why I was advised not to speak to the Home Office.  I could see everything slipping away from me. Nobody told me this was the ‘Fast Track’.

At the end of the interview, the Home Office asked whether my solicitor had anything to say. His interpreter said that the Home Office interpreter had made many mistakes. Very bad mistakes. Mistakes that made me look stupid and contradicted my statement. The Home Office representative showed us out the door. There was still no mention of the ‘Fast Track’.

The next day I received the refusal letter. They gave me two days to appeal. Two days! The stress was unbelievable. My blood pressure went extremely high. I had to have medicine for anxiety and depression. My solicitor only got my appeal in five minutes before the 4pm deadline. One day later, they gave me a court date for four days’ time. In between this, I had a Rule 35 from a doctor who confirmed I had experienced torture and great trauma.  He said nothing about the ‘Fast Track’.

My hearing lasted no more than half an hour, just a few quick questions from the Home Office representative using the interpreter’s notes. There were so many errors it was painful to hear.  It was as if they were talking about someone else. I felt so frustrated and angry and helpless, all at the same time. The judge believed my name and my nationality and nothing else. He ignored my Rule 35. It was clear that the decision had been made before a word was said. It was like the mafia or something. At one point, the judge even walked out and forgot to dismiss everyone. It was a joke how little everyone involved cared. And it was my life!

I received a rejection letter from the court two days later. I fell into a great depression. They refused all my appeals and gave me a ticket. When this happened, I became very, very sick. The mental impact of this ticket was enormous. It was like getting a piece of paper which said “You will be executed on the 16th December”. It felt like attempted murder.

Two times they tried to get me onto a plane. I could feel my blood pressure going very high again. On both occasions, the pilot refused to take me. The Home Office were very annoyed. They told me my fresh claim would not succeed. I was released last month.

At the time, I did not know that the thing ruining my life was called the ‘Fast Track’. Maybe nobody told me because they knew how terrible it was and they did not want to hurt me. I found out what it is the hard way. It is hell. It has given me severe psychological problems. People go into it balanced and they leave broken. I know now how lucky I am to have survived it. It does not surprise me to hear that 99% of claims heard on the Fast Track are rejected.

I was still in detention when I heard about the judgement on Detention Action’s legal challenge against the Fast Track and the news it has been operating unlawfully. This recognition is good. But the response from the Court only confirmed the way I feel about the justice system here. In all my studies I have researched English law and I understand the principle of rights. What happened to me as an individual was wrong, but the Home Office allowed it. Now the judges say the whole operation is wrong, but it continues. What justice is this? I am very pleased about the changes to the time people will have with solicitors. But it is not enough. It is a small part of the problem. No changes to the screening process? No changes to Rule 35s? No changes to the appeal system? No suspension? No end of the Fast Track altogether? It does not surprise me that the Home Office have got away with it. This is what they do every day.