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Tortured, Raped And Detained: How Linh Was Betrayed By The Home Office

15/10/2017 12:47 BST | Updated 15/10/2017 12:47 BST

"When I was around four years old my parents died at sea whilst fishing. After this I lived with my grandmother."

Linh* was six when a gang of men walked into her house uninvited. "I was very frightened," she told us, "they looked terrifying and aggressive. I began shaking and could not move." They demanded the money owed to them by her parents, and when Linh's grandmother pleaded that they had no money, they began to smash up the house before turning on the little girl and the elderly woman, beating them with broken furniture before leaving them bleeding and terrified.

The men returned a few months later, notching up the violence. They cut Linh and her grandmother with knives and broken plates before burning them with lighted cigarettes.

Linh decided she had no option but pay off the debt. She packed her little bags and travelled to Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, where she washed dishes for a pittance, saving everything she could.

After a few years, Linh was able to pay back some of the debt, but the loan sharks were not satisfied. When she was 13, they suggested that she cleared the debt by working directly for them. "I agreed as I could not continue living in fear when someone will come and beat me and my elderly grandmother."

Linh was taken on a long journey and woke up in China. There she was raped for the first time. "I felt so much shame, I was in pain. I thought I was going to die as I began to bleed."

From China she was taken to France, where she was also forced to work as a prostitute, before ending up in a brothel in the UK.

Linh finally escaped only to be arrested and detained at Yarl's Wood IRC, the notorious women-only detention centre in Bedfordshire.

Locked-up and powerless in detention, Linh's demons were reawakened. "I felt as if I was back in the hands of the men who were forcing me to sleep with other men....it brought back all the memories and fears."

Linh's physical and mental health deteriorated quickly in detention. She lost weight and struggled to sleep; when she did manage to drift off, she was harassed with nightmares about her torturers.

Linh finally met a doctor in detention, who noted that she had mental trauma, and reported that her scars and wounds were consistent with her account. A caseworker replied to the report: Yes you suffered 'mistreatment and torture', she was told, but you 'did not demonstrate that the treatment you received was knowingly sanctioned or carried out on behalf of the government of Vietnam. A decision has been made to maintain your detention.' The wrong type of torture.

Shockingly, the caseworker was right. In September 2016 the Home Office removed safeguards for hundreds of victims of torture, with a brief comment in parenthesis advising medical practitioners that torture inflicted by non-state actors should not, in fact, be considered torture for the purposes of medical examinations.

Along with Bhatt Murphy Solicitors and the charity Medical Justice, Duncan Lewis Solicitors immediately committed to bringing down the new policy. Was it a consolation for Linh to know that the loan sharks holding lit cigarettes to her skin were not state officials?

The absurd policy chillingly demonstrates the sophistry to which the Home Office will resort in order to detain vulnerable individuals.

On Tuesday the High Court unambiguously told the Home Office that their distinction between state and non-state torture, when assessing particular vulnerability to harm in detention, 'has no rational or evidence base.' Linh and the other claimants had been unlawfully detained.

For many the damage has already been done, but this important ruling will help prevent other victims of torture from being re-traumatised in detention, and one hopes the Home Office will now think twice before they seek to betray wounded men and women like Linh by locking them up in our rotten detention system.

*Linh is not her real name, it has been changed to protect her identity.