ABSTRACT: An unknown number of asylum seekers arriving in Denmark have been exposed to torture or have experienced other traumatising events in their country of origin. The health of traumatised asylum seekers, both physically and mentally, is affected upon arrival to Denmark, and time in asylum centres leads to further deterioration in health.
One hundred forty-two (N=142) newly arrived asylum seekers were examined at Center Sandholm by Amnesty International Danish Medical Group from the 1st of September until the 31st of December 2007.
The asylum seekers came from 33 different countries, primarily representing Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Chechnya. Of the asylum seekers, 45 percent had been exposed to torture--approximately one-third within the year of arrival to Denmark. Unsystematic blows, personal threats or threats to family, degrading treatment, isolation, and witnessing torture of others were the main torture methods reported. The majority of the asylum seekers had witnessed armed conflict, persecution, and imprisonment. The study showed that physical symptoms were approximately twice as frequent and psychological symptoms were approximately two to three times as frequent among torture survivors as among non-tortured asylum seekers. However, even the health of non-tortured asylum seekers was affected. Among the torture survivors, 63 percent fulfilled the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder, and 30-40 percent of the torture survivors were depressed, in anguish, anxious, and tearful in comparison to 5-10 percent of the non-tortured asylum seekers. Further, 42 percent of torture survivors had torture-related scars.
Torture survivors amid newly arrived asylum seekers are an extremely vulnerable group, hence examination and inquiry about the torture history is extremely important in order to identify this population to initiate the necessary medical treatment and social assistance. Amnesty International Danish Medical group is currently planning a follow-up study of the present population which will focus on changes in health status during their time in Denmark.
Torture: quarterly journal on rehabilitation of torture victims and prevention of torture 02/2008; 18(2):77-86.