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Education And Debate

Effects on asylum seekers of ill treatment in Zaire

BMJ 1996; 312 doi: (Published 03 February 1996) Cite this as: BMJ 1996;312:293
  1. M R Peel, senior lecturer, United Medical and Dental Schools of St Thomas's and Guy's Hospitalsa
  1. a Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, London NW5 3EJ
  • Accepted 11 October 1995

To describe the health effects of the political system in Zaire on asylum seekers seen at the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture a retrospective study was performed of the records of 92 asylum seekers from Zaire who were seen for medical reports at the medical foundation in 1993 and 1994. Eighty one had been imprisoned; the others had been severely ill treated at home by the security services. Sixty six had been detained for up to one year. Prison conditions were invariably insanitary, and food of poor quality when provided. All had been beaten on arrest, and all but two had been beaten repeatedly in prison. Nearly all the women and some of the men described sexual abuse. Almost all left prison through bribery or because a guard had a similar background. Seventy two asylum seekers had scarring, considered to be consistent with the history, and 70 were considered to have suffered persistent psychological damage. Asylum seekers from Zaire will have health effects from experiences unimaginable to the ordinary Briton. An understanding of the background will help clinicians manage them.

Studies in Scandinavia have suggested that 25% to 30% of all refugees have experienced torture.1 In the USA it has been estimated that 5% to 10% of people born abroad presenting in large urban health maintenance organisations have been tortured.2 The Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture is the only organisation in the United Kingdom that offers medical and psychological services to asylum seekers who have been brutalised. A survey of asylum seekers from Zaire seen at the foundation in 1993 and 1994 was carried out to study their background and the patterns of abuse in that country. This paper is intended to help clinicians recognise the possible past experiences of …

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