News 09 Mar 2017
Training programme of IRCT and EASO sets path for efficient medico-legal evaluation of torture survivors in Cyprus asylum procedures

Due to the circumstances in which they migrate and flee, asylum seekers often arrive in a new country with no documents to prove their identity, background, stories, and allegations; and for those who allege torture in their country of origin, documentary ‘proof’ usually does not exist.

Training programme of IRCT and EASO sets path for efficient medico-legal evaluation of torture survivors in Cyprus asylum procedures

Without such proof, torture victims are often unable to demonstrate their need for protection and as a result, they risk having their claim rejected and being returned to more torture.

Addressing this issue, the IRCT regularly holds trainings for health professionals on how to document the physical and psychological effects of torture on individuals. Last month, the organisation carried out a month-long training programme in Cyprus in collaboration with the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) and the Cyprus Ministry of Health and Ministry of Interior Asylum Service. The objective of these trainings were to train health professionals in the country on how to conduct medico-legal evaluation of alleged torture victims and asylum officers on how to consider their findings. The institutional partners conducted three trainings throughout February for general practitioners, psychologists and psychiatrists, as well as a training to the Asylum Service on 23-24 February.

“Understanding the contents of medico-legal evaluations and how to interpret the findings can be essential for asylum officials to verify allegations and make appropriate decisions in these cases. Without good evidence and an understanding of how to analyse this, asylum seekers might be sent back to a country where they are at risk of more torture and ill-treatment”, said IRCT Advocacy Director, Asger Kjaerum.

The IRCT is working hard to improve the way victims of torture are treated when they seek asylum in the European Union. Collaborating with key partners such as EASO, the IRCT engages in capacity-building through tailored trainings that aim to ensure that asylum officials make well-informed decisions when they work with victims of torture.

Over the course of the month in Cyprus, the IRCT and EASO discussed key elements of the Istanbul Protocol worked with health professionals from the Ministry of Health to strengthen their abilities to conduct medico-legal evaluations and produce medico-legal reports for the asylum context. Crucially, the training to the Asylum Service included workshops on torture methods and their physical and psychological effects on victims as well as how to analyse the medico-legal findings provided to them by the health professionals engaged by the Ministry of Health.

“We are very encouraged by these efforts to enhance the use of medico-legal documentation of torture in the Cypriot asylum proceedings and the fact that EASO is facilitating the translation of the Istanbul Protocol into Greek. We look forward to collaborating closely with the Asylum authorities and EASO to ensure that the trainings turn into practice to the benefit of torture victims seeking protection in Cyprus. Trainings like these are a necessary supporting component to the region-wide policy changes we are seeking to improve identification and documentation across European Union”, said IRCT Advocacy Director, Asger Kjaerum.

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Background information

If the outcome of an asylum claim relies on whether an asylum seeker has been tortured in country of origin, the asylum seekers should have access to trained health professionals who can medically and psychologically investigate and document those allegations of past torture. This is a highly-specialised field of medicine known as medico-legal documentation, which requires specific knowledge and training. The process normally features a medical doctor and a psychologist who systematically assess the physical and psychological symptoms of the person and correlate them with the allegations of torture and ill-treatment.

The process for carrying out this medico-legal evaluation is based on the UN-adopted instrument ‘Manual for the Effective Investigation and Documentation of Torture, Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment’ – commonly known as the Istanbul Protocol. The Istanbul Protocol provides a set of international standards and guidelines for carrying out the documentation. The process ends with the health experts producing a report called a Medico-Legal Report (MLR) detailing the findings of their medical and psychological evaluations.

“Understanding the contents of medico-legal evaluations and how to interpret the findings can be essential for asylum officials to verify allegations and make appropriate decisions in these cases. Without good evidence and an understanding of how to analyse this it, asylum seekers might be sent back to a country where they are at risk of more torture and ill-treatment."

IRCT Advocacy Director, Asger Kjaerum

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