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Victims of Torture: the invisible side of the refugee population vulnerability

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Almost 1,000 people certified as victims of torture by METAdrasi

Imprisonment in inhuman conditions, extreme tactics of physical abuse, rape, daily psychological violence. In many countries of the world, unthinkable ways of cruel and degrading treatment are still being practiced in order to punish, intimidate, interrogate. Among the refugees arriving in Greece, a high percentage are victims of torture, but they often constitute the “invisible” faces of the vulnerable refugee population.

The act of torture aims to break the resistance of the victims, while leaving as little physical evidence as possible. What is more, victims of torture are naturally reluctant to trust state authorities when arriving in a foreign country and this, combined with the stressful living conditions, makes it very difficult for them to share their stories.

On the other hand, it may prove crucial for a victim of torture to be certified, in order to prevent refoulment or deportation, support their asylum application and/or family reunification claim and be referred to services related to their physical and mental rehabilitation, social support etc. Furthermore, a certification as a victim of torture protects the beneficiary from re-traumatising examinations, while formally acknowledging and recording their experiences is an assertive and empowering act in itself.

Since September 2011, METAdrasi, a Civil Society Organization, has undertaken the certification of victims of torture, covering the gap created in Greece following the suspension of operation of the Medical Center for the Rehabilitation of Torture Victims (MCRT). Since March 2018, thanks to an initiative supported by the European Commission’s Civil Protection & Humanitarian Aid Operations Department (ECHO), more than 150 people, mainly from Syria, Iraq, Iran and the Democratic Republic of Congo, but also from Turkey, Sudan, Yemen, Cameroon and other countries, have been through the procedure of Investigation and Certification as Victims of Torture, in Athens. The project has also been able to provide support to people around Greece who did not have the means to travel to Athens in order to be certified. A mission to Thessaloniki is being planned for the near future, ensuring the provision of this vital service in northern Greece.

METAdrasi’s interdisciplinary team that consists of social workers, physicians, psychologists and lawyers, among them former MCRT executives with 30 years of experience in the field, as well as new specialized scientists with field experience, follows the integrated process of investigation and certification of victims of torture, as defined by the Istanbul Protocol, in accordance with international best practices. Furthermore, the team currently participates in the Istanbul Protocol Supplement, a global project to update the Istanbul Protocol and improve its application.

Few know the extent to which torture is being practiced. In some cases, entire families may be subjected to torture. Maryam and Ahmed from Syria were subjected to torture by ISIS extremists, when the later gained control of the area, cruelly attacking the local population. Their two-year old daughter, Arwa, was mutilated by those extremists, because her crying was “annoying” her family’s torturers. 24-year-old Azer from Congo was forced to stand watching policemen as they executed his father and raped his sister, and all this, because his father was a journalist who dared to disagree with the government. He and his sister tried to flee the country, only to be captured and tortured again. He managed to escape, but has no knowledge of what became of his sister, who is presumed dead.

Sadly, such stories are not the exception, but a high percentage of the cases examined. According to preliminary data collected by METAdrasi’s team, 19.9% of people have been subjected to foot whipping, 29.8% to electric shocks, 47% have been forced to watch other people being tortured, 25.8% have been tortured via various methods of burning.

Until today, almost 1,000 people have received METAdrasi’s services and were certified as Victims of Torture, either upon reference by competent state actors and organisations, or by contacting directly METAdrasi. These people bear visible or invisible scars in their body and soul and each and every one of them has their own story to tell; a story of violence and abuse of power, but also of resilience and hope for a decent life with respect to human rights.

Photo by Rahmad Ahmadi


About EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid

The European Union and its Member States are the world’s leading donor of humanitarian aid. Relief assistance is an expression of European solidarity with people in need all around the world. It aims to save lives, prevent and alleviate human suffering, and safeguard the integrity and human dignity of populations affected by natural disasters and man-made crises. The European Commission ensures rapid and effective delivery of EU relief assistance through its two main instruments: civil protection and humanitarian aid. Through its Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid operations department (ECHO), the European Commission helps millions of victims of conflict and disasters every year. With headquarters in Brussels and a global network of field offices, the department provides assistance to the most vulnerable people on the basis of humanitarian needs. For more information, please visit the European Commission’s website