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3.6 Survivors of Violence and/or Torture

Submission under this category

To be prioritized for resettlement consideration by UNHCR under this submission category, a refugee:

  • has experienced or personally witnessed torture and/or violence in the country of origin, during flight or the country of asylum, and
  • may have lasting physical or psychological effects from the torture or violence, although there may be no apparent physical signs or symptoms, and
  • could face further traumatization and/or heightened risk due to the conditions of asylum, and
  • requires resettlement to meet their specific needs.

Refugees who have survived torture or violence may have specific needs that warrant resettlement consideration. Traumatic experiences impact the mental and physical health of refugees differently and the necessary support and treatment for individual survivors may be unavailable in the country of asylum or inaccessible to refugees. Furthermore, forced displacement can aggravate the negative effects of an individual’s traumatic experiences. This resettlement submission category is suitable for refugees who have suffered or personally witnessed extreme forms of violence or abuse, and who may be in need of resettlement based on their protection needs.

UNHCR encourages a broad interpretation of the terms “torture” and “violence” when considering the resettlement needs of refugees who have suffered or witnessed extreme forms of abuse. Refugees may have survived or experienced violence and/or torture in their country of origin, during flight or in the country of asylum. Experiences of this nature include, but are not limited to, arbitrary detention, kidnapping, or witnessing the violent death, torture or severe mistreatment of family members or others close to them.

Sexual violence and other forms of GBV, whether perpetrated in public or private, such as intimate partner violence, child marriage, exploitation and abuse, trafficking and harmful traditional practices including dowry-related violence and female genital mutilation are considered violations under international human rights law and can amount to torture, as can violence perpetrated against people with diverse SOGIESC and/or harmful policing strategies and negative interactions with law enforcement as a result of criminalization of LGBTIQ+ people.  

Individuals with mental health and physical health issues can face barriers to accessing assistance and protection interventions, including resettlement. Offices may need to adapt local thresholds and criteria for assessing resettlement needs to help ensure equitable access to resettlement for survivors of violence and/or torture. See 2.2 Resettlement planning for guidance on ensuring an ADG approach in resettlement.

Documenting violence and/or torture in the RRF

Women, men and children may experience the effects of violence and torture differently and they may have coping mechanisms that are particular to their age, gender, family status and other diversity characteristics.

Some forms of torture and violence leave physical wounds, scars, or long-lasting impairments or disabilities. There may also be acute or chronic psychological and social impacts of violence and torture in the short term, which can undermine an individual’s long-term mental health. Common symptoms include fear, depression, anxiety and nervousness, difficulty in concentrating and problems with sleep. In addition, some individuals may have difficulty recalling or recounting past experiences. A diagnosis often associated with violence and/or torture is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which can only be provided by a psychiatrist or psychologist.

Resettlement colleagues should submit a case under this category based on the facts established during the preparation of the case, or physical and/or psychosocial health impacts reported by the individual, who may not necessarily be the Principal Applicant in the resettlement submission. Caseworkers should neither offer a clinical diagnosis of psychological or psychiatric conditions, nor assume that the concerned refugee would benefit from treatment.

Relevant supporting documentation, assessments or reports should be included in the resettlement submission, in line with data protection and privacy principles (see 2.3 Data protection in resettlement). Additional general guidance on sharing child protection information can be found in chapter 3.5 of UNHCR’s BIP Guidelines.

Specific needs data that is necessary and proportionate for the purpose of facilitating settlement service provision should be set out in Section 6 “Specific Needs” of the RRF. This will help ensure that relevant information about services is made available to the individual upon arrival. Sharing of GBV-related specific needs data should be based on consent and in accordance with the GBV Guiding Principles.

While it should not be assumed that an individual will wish to access relevant services in a resettlement country, immediately or in the longer term, resettlement offers a safer environment that can be conducive to the provision of appropriate support, if and when it is sought by the individual.  

Where a medical assessment by a qualified and independent physician is available, clinical observations and information on treatment provided to address urgent issues and/or the availability of required treatment and counselling in the country of asylum should be included in the resettlement submission.