World Refugee Day: Refugees who experience torture need access to justice

The Tunisian National Guard intercepted migrant boats trying to cross the Mediterranean before turning the migrants over on the shores of the southern city of Sfax on 9 June 2023 ©Shutterstock

Joint statement

Geneva, 20 June 2023 – As the world celebrates Refugee Day, the OMCT’s Working Group on Migration and Torture in Africa calls for more justice for migrants who are regularly exposed to torture.

Across the continent, populations continue to flee conflict and persecution in their home countries. In May 2023, the war that broke out in Sudan drove more than 530,000 people into neighboring countries. The ongoing wars in Ethiopia and the Sahel region have created 5.4 million refugees and internally displaced people.

While host countries are trying to help them restart their lives, most refugees remain exposed to several human rights violations, including torture.

In its recent sessions, the United Nations Committee against torture (UNCAT) has noted cases of violence, in particular sexual and gender-based violence against refugee women and girls, human trafficking, disappearances and refoulement. In Kenya, for instance, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex refugees and asylum seekers may be turned away on the de facto basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity. In the refugee camps of Bidi-Bidi in Uganda, the CAT found that almost 80% of refugees had been victims of torture in 2020 and had still not been granted access to adequate remedies and rehabilitation. In Malawi, on 17 May, the Ministry of Internal Security detained 1,859 refugees and asylum seekers. Men, women, and children living in different districts, including the capital city of Lilongwe, were arrested by the police with the help of the military. Some of those detained reported being beaten and having their property destroyed.

Torture and other forms of ill treatments of irregular migrants also remain endemic along Africa’s main migration roads. Last year, the death of at least 23 sub-Saharan migrants in Melilla on 24 June constituted an unprecedented tragedy. They were killed by the security forces while trying to enter Spain by climbing the huge fence at the "Barrio Chino" border post on the Melilla peninsula. To date, none of the perpetrators have been prosecuted. In Libya, the situation remains worrying, as the country does not have a functioning national asylum system and continues to face violence and instability. Thousands of people are held in detention centres and warehouses characterised by severe overcrowding, poor living conditionsand physical violence. Although these incidents are well documented, very few investigations have been carried out in recent years. Between March and April, more than 7,000 sub-Saharan migrants were brutally expelled from Algeria to the small border village of Assamaka in Niger.

According to the African commission on human and people’s rights (ACHPR), only 8% of migrants take legal action to seek redress for the violations of their rights. This figure can be explained by their vulnerability, their mobility and the fear of reprisals. In addition, migrants do not benefit from any legal assistance and face many administrative burdens that hamper the processing of complaints at both national and international levels.

To prevent this trend, the CAT has called on States including, Chad, Nigeria, DRC, Uganda, Kenya and, more recently, Ethiopia, to investigate and prosecute acts of torture committed against refugees. In addition, States should provide training to their staff dealing with refugees, in particular on issues related to refugees’ right to rehabilitation.

The SOS-Torture Migration and torture Working in group in Africa, is a group of 10 experts from the OMCT SOS-Torture network, which aims to analyze first-hand information in order to set out authoritative research and recommendations for the protection of migrants against torture and other punishments or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. The group is sponsored by the World Organization Against Torture (OMCT) and the Collectif des Associations Contre l’Impunité au Togo (CACIT).