19 Oct 2016
IRCT continues to support torture victims seeking asylum in the EU

Last week, as part of its strategy to support member centres and other institutions in documenting torture and providing rehabilitation services to victims seeking asylum in the European Union, the IRCT undertook a number of activities.

Strengthening documentation of torture in Swedish asylum proceedings

The IRCT recently conducted a training together with its member centre Swedish Red Cross in Malmö and experts from the Independent Forensic Expert Group (IFEG) on how to improve the documentation of torture allegations in the Swedish asylum procedure. The training, which took place in Malmö, was held between 11-14 October 2016.

Approximately 20 lawyers and psychologists from six Red Cross Centres across Sweden, as well as a medical doctor from the Swiss Red Cross in St Gallen and a physiotherapist from the Centre for Torture Survivors in Finland attended the four-day event.

Documenting and investigating a person's allegations of torture is crucial to ensuring that victims get a fair consideration of their asylum claim. A recent IRCT report found that torture victims throughout the EU face significant hurdles in effectively participating in asylum procedures. Valid asylum claims are often rejected due to a lack of understanding of the psychological consequences of trauma, potentially sending victims back to countries where they are at risk of torture or ill-treatment.

The training in Malmö sought to address these challenges by improving the way in which teams of medical, mental health and legal professionals engage in documentation of torture according to the standards set forth in the Istanbul Protocol.

"In Sweden, torture survivors still face many obstacles even after we have presented medico-legal reports. This is often because of a lack of knowledge and awareness of decision-makers on the Istanbul Protocol. That is why it is so crucial for us to get together to think about how we can maximise our impact as a movement in Sweden," said Andreas Malm, Psychologist at the Red Cross Treatment Centre for Persons Affected by War and Torture in Malmö, Sweden.  

At the conclusion of this training, staff from the various Swedish Red Cross centres resolved to form a group to establish standard practices and a unified approach to conducting medico-legal evaluations and producing reports. The participants also agreed to create working groups across the various centres to discuss cases of interest and begin a peer review process of their medico-legal reports to maximise their impact in the asylum procedure.   

Trampoline House – Sharing Experiences of Working with Vulnerable Groups

The IRCT and IFEG experts also visited the Trampoline House, an independent community in Copenhagen that supports refugees and asylum seekers in Denmark. The purpose of this visit was to share experiences and best practices of working with and for traumatised individuals.

During a two-hour discussion, the IFEG experts, together with Trampoline House staff, members of its legal and medical counselling groups, and some of the House’s volunteers shared their experiences and challenges on working with individuals who may have a history of torture or other severe trauma.

“Based on the discussions, we feel confident about continuing to carry out our activities and counselling in a way where we are not only conversing as counsellors to clients, but where we can also take on the role of friend and family member, even within a counselling session,” expressed Søren Rafn, Refugee Counsellor and Internship Coordinator at the Trampoline House.

The Trampoline House provides important support to people fleeing war, conflict, and persecution and seeking asylum in Denmark. It provides space for a wide range of social activities such as language classes, playgroups for children, a women’s club and art exhibitions as well other essential services such as legal and medical counselling.

About the Istanbul Protocol

The Manual on the Effective Investigation and Documentation of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment – commonly known as the Istanbul Protocol – establishes internationally recognised standards and principles for the investigation and documentation of allegations of torture and ill-treatment.

It provides guidance for health professionals on how to recognise and document symptoms of torture to serve as valid evidence in court and in asylum proceedings. Its adoption by the United Nations in 1999 gives it global authority as an instrument that should be used to guide standards for the documentation and investigation of torture. The Istanbul Protocol’s key objective is to ensure scientific and multi-disciplinary assessment of credible evidence in order to contribute to achieving justice in cases of torture as well as to facilitate the access of torture victims to appropriate services and protection.

About the Independent Forensic Expert Group

The Independent Forensic Expert Group (IFEG) is an international group of 35 preeminent forensic specialists from 18 countries who provide technical advice and expertise in cases relating to the documentation torture. The members of the IFEG are leading world experts and include several authors of the Istanbul Protocol.

Collectively, the members of the IFEG have co-authored hundreds of articles on the Istanbul Protocol and have conducted Istanbul Protocol evaluations in tens of thousands of cases and provided hundreds of expert trainings to health professionals on how to conduct Istanbul Protocol evaluations.

To learn more about the work of the Swedish Red Cross, please visit www.redcross.se

To learn more about the work of Trampoline House, please visit www.trampolinehouse.dk

To learn more about the IRCT’s work on torture survivors seeking asylum in Europe, please see:

-    Falling Through the Cracks: Asylum Procedures and Reception Conditions for Torture Victims in the European Union
-    IRCT Position Paper on the proposed Asylum Procedures Regulation
-    IRCT Position Paper on the proposed recast Reception Conditions Directive
-    IRCT Position Paper on the proposed recast Dublin Regulation

“Rehabilitation gives torture victims the strength to fight for justice.” - Olga Sadovskaya, Deputy chair of the Committee Against Torture

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