A new report released this week by the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT) revealed that many developed countries still do not have the proper policies in place to ensure that victims of torture are not re-traumatised by the asylum process or deported to the country where they were tortured.

The report focused its examination on the European countries of Bulgaria, Croatia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Sweden, Turkey, Kosovo, Moldova, and Armenia, as well as the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Due to the absence or improper implementation of appropriate measures within States’ asylum systems to identify torture victims as early as possible in the asylum procedure, they may find themselves detained. IRCT has identified this as a problem in Ireland, Bulgaria, Finland, Hungary, the Netherlands and Sweden. Detention causes re-traumatisation as it exacerbates pre-existing physical and mental health conditions and leaves them undetected and untreated. Some may also be subjected to accelerated procedures or other expedited procedures, which increases the risk of torture victims’ applications being rejected before their proper identification. This problem is reinforced by a lack of access to appropriate legal support so as to be able to effectively present their evidence during the asylum procedure.

In line with case-law of the European Court of Human Rights (RC v Sweden) and the recast Asylum Procedures Directive, IRCT also stresses the importance of obligatory and systematic use of proper medical and psychological evaluation, compiled in the form of medico-legal reports by state authorities, which will support torture victims’ asylum claims. So far only the Netherlands has adopted legislation to this effect. In the other EU Member States studied by IRCT, such reports are rarely requested by asylum authorities and where introduced by the asylum seekers themselves costs need to be borne by the individual or be financed by private funds (e.g. France). This is a particular problem as costs for such medico-legal reports are very high, amounting in Sweden for instance up to 2,000 EUR.

IRCT stresses the importance of the complementary nature of both early identification mechanisms and access to rehabilitation, crucial for their integration into their host societies.

Once implemented, the recast Reception Conditions Directive will introduce an obligation on EU Member States – excluding opt-out countries Ireland, the UK and Denmark – to provide mechanisms to identify vulnerable asylum seekers and their reception needs. IRCT welcomes this change but criticised the remaining broad discretion of Member States as to the interpretation of earliest identification (within a “reasonable period of time”), which is crucial when ensuring that authorities are aware of issues affecting the applicant’s ability to present their case consistently and coherently.

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This article originally appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 15 November 2013
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