In 2015, a record 1.2 million refugees applied for asylum in the EU, most of them fleeing from torture, violent conflict, persecution and repressive regimes in the Middle East, Asia and Africa. This unprecedented number of asylum seekers presents a serious challenge for European governments and their asylum authorities, who have been ill prepared to receive and support the vast numbers of people arriving.
In this context, torture victims are not receiving the specialised support they need to get better and to engage effectively with the asylum process. One reason for this is that most EU Member States, including the eight countries featured in this report, do not have a procedure for systematic identification of torture victims in the asylum procedure. This key issue has a range of negative consequences on the individual, such as deteriorating physical and mental health and flawed consideration of their asylum claim. Without identification, there is no referral to much needed torture rehabilitation services and victims risk being placed in immigration detention. This seriously jeopardises the physical and mental health situation of victims and that of their families, who find themselves in an extremely vulnerable situation.
In the refugee status determination, this lack of identification means that crucial physical and psychological evidence of torture to support torture victims’ asylum claims is not collected. As a consequence, torture victims are at risk of being put through inflexible processes that are not suited to assess the protection claims of those suffering from torture traumatisation.
Numerous studies have shown that refugees who have experienced torture are particularly susceptible to mental health problems, such as post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD), anxiety, suicidal thoughts and depression. This affects all areas of a person’s life, their family’s life and their community. For many clients of IRCT member centres, torture trauma leads to intense feelings of disassociation, disorientation and isolation, compounded by the stress of experiencing long periods of uncertainty. They urgently need rehabilitation and to be able to live in safety. It is clear that many torture victims have strong cases for asylum, yet without being identified and receiving adequate support during and after the asylum process they struggle to effectively present their case.