Victims of trafficking suffer from long-term mental ill-health
Women who have been trafficked for sexual or labour exploitation continue to experience high rates of mental illness including depression, anxiety, PTSD and suicidal thoughts, many months after leaving their traffickers. New research published in April by King’s College London and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine confirms that mental and physical health complaints continued to affect the women participants at a high rate, despite them having left their trafficking situations an average of 16 months previously.
The survey looked at both women and men, trafficked for diverse purposes including forced labour, forced prostitution and domestic servitude, and found that while after an average of six months, 40% of men were still reporting high levels of mental ill-health, the women surveyed, who had been free from their trafficking situations for longer, 16 months on average, reported symptoms in nearly 80% of cases.
Beyond the mental health symptoms recorded, women also complained of on-going physical symptoms including headaches, stomach, dental and back pain, fatigue and memory loss. A high level of sexually transmitted infection was also implied through other reported symptoms.
While women trafficked into the sex industry had, in almost all cases, experienced rape, they had also experienced physical violence at very high rates. Meanwhile, women who had been trafficked into domestic servitude were likely to have also been forced into sex, with over half admitting to this experience.
The report calls for better training for workers in the NHS to be able to recognise and report suspected cases of trafficking, so that the NHS could act as a strategic and operational partner of the National Referral Mechanism (NRM). 13% of surveyed NHS staff reported having come into contact with a suspected victim of trafficking, and this rose to 20% among maternity services professionals. However, 87% of NHS staff questioned said that they did not know what questions to ask in cases of suspected trafficking.
Victims of trafficking are unlikely to access NHS services while still trapped in their trafficking situation. The report cited barriers including fear based on irregular immigration status, lack of identity documents, as well as traffickers controlling their movement, as barriers to access to healthcare. The report also notes, however, the lack of understanding of NHS staff as to the rights of victims to access care, especially GPs as another barrier, and calls for a multi-sectoral, sustained support system for trauma-informed and culturally appropriate care.
NRM decision letters following positive or conclusive reasonable grounds decisions should be amended to state explicitly that the victim is entitled to free primary healthcare, and a ‘Green: Paid or exempt from health surcharge’ banner should be put on the NHS records of anyone making an application for leave to remain following a positive trafficking decision in order to avoid difficulties in accessing healthcare, the report argues.
This article was originally published in Women’s Asylum News 135 April/May 2016.
Innocent Man May be Released after 10+ years in Guantánamo (maybe)
‘This young man should have been released years ago’
An Afghan man detained for 14 years in Guantánamo—without ever being convicted of a crime—was on Friday recommended by the Pentagon for release.
The man, known as Obaidullah, was arrested and detained in 2002, when he was about 19, but the U.S. government failed to successfully prosecute him for any crimes, AP reported. Charges were eventually made against him in 2008, but were dismissed in 2011.
“This young man should have been released years ago,” Marine Maj. Derek Poteet, who has represented him since 2010, told the Miami Herald. “He was taken from his bed at his home peacefully without resistance. He was subjected to real abuse at Bagram.”
Obaidullah was allegedly arrested by U.S. special forces in 2002 because unarmed land mines were discovered buried near his house. The U.S. government did not formally bring charges against him until 2008.
“He was charged in the military tribunals in September 2008 with conspiracy and providing material support for terrorism, which appeals courts have said cannot be pursued as war crimes at Guantánamo for conduct that occurred before 2006,” explained AP. “The government dismissed the charges in 2011 and his lawyers have been pressing for his release ever since.”
Poteet told the Miami Herald that “not only was he innocent of war crimes, Obaidullah did not speak Arabic before he got to Cuba, making him an unlikely al-Qaida fighter.”
The newspaper described the U.S. government’s stated rationale for Obaidullah’s years of detention:
A 2008 Guantánamo prison profile said he was brought there to provide information on al-Qaida recruiting, electronic devices, terrorism-related facilities and anti-tank land mines. An updated November 2015 intelligence profile, which was prepared for the parole board, said the Taliban trained him to handle explosives, and was part of an al-Qaida-linked improvised explosives device cell that targeted U.S. and allied troops
“In 2013,” the Miami Herald reports, “Poteet described the Afghan as having withered to a ‘bag of bones’ during the prison’s paralyzing hunger strike. Obaidullah also described for his lawyers the April 2013 raid by Guantánamo troops that forcibly moved hunger strikers into single-cell lockdown, something he considered collective punishment.”
The Pentagon parole board that made the determination (pdf) for Obaidullah’s release praised the detainee for his “positive constructive leadership in detention,” including “mediating concerns raised between other detainees and between other detainees and the guard staff” at Guantánamo.
The transcript of the parole board’s hearing was not made public, however, so it is unknown precisely what transpired to convince the board to recommend Obaidullah for release.
Guantánamo has lately seen an uptick in prisoners recommended for release, according to the Miami Herald:
The Pentagon released the decision Friday during a busy period for the Periodic Review Board. The Board has scheduled an unprecedented nine hearings this month, and released the Obaidullah decision exactly one month after he went before them.
With this approval, 28 of the 80 captives currently at Guantánamo prison are formally cleared to leave to security arrangements that satisfy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter. Ten others are in war crimes proceedings and the rest are awaiting hearings, their results or have had their indefinite detention upheld.
It remains to be seen when Obaidullah and other prisoners cleared for release will leave Guantánamo. As Common Dreams has previously reported, the Department of Defense has “routinely and deliberately undermined” President Obama’s efforts to move toward closing the notorious prison.
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