Persecuted in Cameroon for his democratic activity, Ivo Kuka has been denied justice in the UK.
Ivo Kuka fled his home after he was imprisoned and tortured as a political prisoner in Cameroon due to his membership of the SCNC. Ivo was arrested after attending an SCNC demonstration and detained for five days, during which he was tortured – hung upside down, beaten on the soles of his feet, and beaten in the face for which he received stitches – and sexually assaulted. As Robert and Ivo found, sanctuary was to be hard to find. While the worst excesses of violence and mistreatment may have been left behind in Cameroon, in the UK Ivo found striking similarities: once again, imprisoned and denied the right to a fair trial. The UK government refused to listen to Ivo’s story and fought to send him back to face more of the same treatment. In Ivo’s own words, they signed his death warrant.
On arrival in the UK, Ivo was imprisoned in Harmondsworth detention centre, near Heathrow. Central to the miscarriage of justice Ivo was subjected to was his placement in the ‘detained fast-track’ (DFT) process. DFT has been described by campaign group Detention Action as “…structured to the maximum disadvantage of asylum-seekers at every stage. Conditions and timescales operate to make it impossible for many asylum-seekers to understand or actively engage with the asylum process.”
The premise of DFT is to process asylum claims as fast as possible and individuals placed in the process are detained while their claim is decided – the period from interview to decision is often a matter of days. The UKBA now has a target of processing 30 per cent of claims through the fast track procedure. While there has been a steep decline in asylum applications in recent years, allocation to the fast track has increased from 1,672 in 2008 to 2,571 in 2010.The process has been under intense criticism and legal challenges, both because of its use of administrative detention and because the speed represents such a significant barrier to justice that a positive outcome almost impossible.
According to the government’s own guidelines, Ivo should not have been included on the DFT process because he was a victim of torture. Including rape and torture victims in the process has drawn the UKBA severe criticism from the UN, but the practice continues.
The story of Ivo Kuka
“When I booked for an appointment to claim asylum, never did I know that I was to be detained and treated as a criminal. On the 19th of October 2012, 10:45 am, I arrived in Croydon for my asylum claim. I was received by a lady and taken in to a single room.
“She said she was going to conduct my screening interview and I was OK with that? The interview was conducted. At the end she told me it was decided to put my case on ‘fast track’. Not knowing what it meant I said that was OK. Later in the evening I was taken downstairs and handed over to some officers who searched me and locked me up in a room, taking my phone away from me. This act raised some concern in me and I asked if something was wrong. The only answer I got was a small piece of paper with an address on it.
“The address was Harmondsworth’s. Late in the night three of us were taken into a van and driven to Harmondsworth. When I got up the following morning I could not believe what was going on. I said to myself, ‘I am in prison’. I was traumatised, depressed and scared, but as a man I put on the helmet of courage and started to do what I saw others do. I began to ask my new friends what ‘fast track’ was and from the different explanations, I knew I was in a difficult situation, and not alone. I came to discover that asylum seekers detained in the fast track have very limited time and resources to present their case, or to prepare for any appeal, if you have the chance at all to be allowed to appeal while in the UK.
“The procedures under the detained fast track show that from the day you claim asylum you have just nine days for your claim to be decided upon. It states: ‘From Day 9 it may be possible to have your appeal reconsidered by the asylum immigration tribunal but this is not guaranteed.’ You can find yourself detained for years without your case being decided upon and you are still in the fast track system, treated like a criminal. If you complain about the food you will be sent to the ‘F-wing’, a wing specially made for psychological torture. You are with three people in a room and the toilet is in the same room, openly and just right next to you.
“I came across one guy who has been here for one year and three months. He narrated his story to me, like we were already friends. The second time we were talking about our stories I came to discover that what he said to me the first time was slightly different from what he was telling me now. I decided to have a close look at all his paperwork from the Home Office. He has been interviewed many times and he was showing high levels of traumatic stress.
“In his application, the peripheral details of the account are more likely to be inconsistent than the recall of details that are central to the account. I am pleading for him with the authorities and case owner that such inconsistencies should not be relied on as indicating the lack of credibility. Tell me, if one is not well-trained to handle such information how can an asylum claim be well managed?
“In the DFT case owners lay excessive and inappropriate emphasis on factors that are not in any way to be considered relevant to the credibility assessment. They place a very heavy burden on us, demanding us to prove our claims in a very short period of time. In my case I had a substantive interview on the 24th October and I told my case owner I could provide evidence from Cameroon. To my greatest dismay, I was served a refusal letter the following day. I had less than 24 hours to provide evidence from Cameroon. In these 24 hours, I also had to send the documentation to my solicitor, who has to look for and send the documents to an expert to verify the authenticity, and send them back to the solicitor before they could be handed over to the case owner. This truly is ‘fast track’. Even so, when you manage to produce the evidence, the case owners – who are the decision makers – fail to pursue and evaluate the evidence.
“I have been a subject to torture, sexual assault and other acts of serious violence. On my arrival at the removal centre I was supposed to receive the necessary medical and psychological treatment, but instead I am tortured psychologically in detention. Each time you complain about an illness you are given two tablets of paracetamol. I requested rule 35 (evidence that detainees are particularly vulnerable, for example have been victims of torture, or whose physical or mental health is likely to suffer as a result of detention) from the health care to use as evidence for my claim. It took weeks to come.
“Solicitors also play a very significant role in the DFT. In my case, I met with my solicitor for the first time just a few minutes before my substantive interview. We had to talk just for about five minutes before my interview started. The solicitor had no knowledge of my case. After my refusal letter had been served, I was given the right to appeal within two days. My solicitor told me on the last day, just a few hours before the deadline, to do it by myself and that she could not file the appeal for me.
“I learned that in Germany when you seek asylum you will be given a residence permit for specific purposes, which allow you to stay in the country legally until your asylum procedure is completed. This also is seen in many other European countries, but in the UK when you seek asylum, you are imprisoned. Asylum seeking has turned to be a serious crime in the UK. I served a long-term prison sentence in Cameroon for belonging to SCNC and in the UK I am serving another undetermined prison term for seeking asylum. Where are the human rights?”
Since sharing his story with Refugee Radio, Ivo was thankfully released. On his third appearance in court, and after four months in detention, a judge finally found in favour of his appeal and he was granted refugee status. The judge indicated that Ivo’s outspoken approach about the situation in Cameroon and his treatment in the UK, including his testimony in the Refugee Radio magazine, had helped his case.
Ivo is now studying health and social care management and doing voluntary work. He has not stopped campaigning for Southern Cameroon: “The struggle we will not let go. We’re still fighting for independence. We won’t let that go so easily.” He is part of a group which comes together every three months to talk about how to advance the cause through British politics.
Since release, he has spoken out about detention and
the fast-track process to mainstream news such as the BBC and ITV. “There should be an alternative method to
immigration detention. Cases should be treated in the community,” he says, “The
fast-track process shouldn’t even exist. It should be abolished.”
 Fast Track to Despair, Detention Action, May 2011 p.3, http://www.irr.org.uk/pdf2/FastTracktoDespair.pdf
 ‘UK detention of torture victims “inhumane”’, Guardian, 23 February 2012, http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2012/feb/23/uk-detention-torture-victims-inhumane