22 March 2016
“I was detained in my home country by an unknown armed group. I was beaten in prison with my hands tied to my back and my eyes blindfolded. I didn’t know who they were. Being closed here reminds me continuously of those experiences. I have flashbacks all the time and I cannot sleep at night. If I do fall asleep, nightmares wake me up. Right after waking up, it strikes me like an electric shock that I am again in a prison, and I am terrorised that they will hurt me again.” (testimony of an asylum-seeker detained at the Debrecen “asylum jail”)
A significant part of asylum-seekers arriving in the EU are torture victims. Their proportion is particularly high among asylum-seekers fleeing on-going armed conflicts and failed states, such as Syria, Afghanistan or Somalia. Torture victims in Europe are in urgent need of assistance: from early identification, through professional medical treatment, psycho-social and legal support, to full rehabilitation. The EU-funded STRENGTH project was implemented in Bulgaria and Hungary in a joint partnership of two organisations providing psychotherapeutic support and rehabilitation to torture victims (in Hungary the Cordelia Foundation), and two organisations engaged in legal support (in Hungary the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, between July 2014 and January 2016. The project’s aim was to provide access to complex assistance to torture victims in these two countries, in order to ease their continued suffering, facilitate their access to international protection, and challenge their often unlawful and unnecessary detention.
As part of the complex assistance, the project entailed regular monitoring of detention centres where torture victims are held. During the monitoring visits, monitoring teams consisting of legal and mental health professionals identified torture victims and assessed the impact on detention on their mental health, trying to document and challenge the presence of this particularly vulnerable group in detention. The report “From Torture to Detention” presents the main findings that monitoring visits in Bulgaria and Hungary uncovered, together with tailor-made recommendations for each of them. The research has revealed grave and systemic shortcomings in both states, in some cases in direct contradiction with Member States’ obligations under EU law.