PRESS RELEASE: Doctors for Human Rights (Italy)

Read the report: Move or Die: Migratory Routes from Sub-Saharan Countries to Europe (pdf)

Rome, August 10, 2015 – Too often in Italy the arrival of migrants and refugees is perceived as “the” invasion “of a blurred crowd. Statements such as “let’s help them in their country” or its more xenophobic variant “They have to remain in their homeland” or even “we welcome refugees but illegal immigrants must be rejected” are often the legacy of politicians and stereotypes. This report, based on the stories and testimonies of hundreds of forced migrants from West Africa and the Horn of Africa, is an effort to provide data and information to foster better understanding this complex phenomenon, beyond dangerous and misleading simplifications.

Move or die. Migratory Routes from Sub-Saharan Countries to Europe summarises the information and testimonies collected by Medici per i Diritti Umani (Doctors for Human Rights) – MEDU during the first 6 months of activities of the project “ON TO: Stopping the torture of refugees from Sub-Saharan countries along the migratory route to Northern Africa” in the Special Reception Centres for asylum seekers in Ragusa Province and in the Reception Centre for Asylum Seekers of Mineo, in Catania Province. Moreover, it reports the data and evidence gathered in 11 months of activities in informal settlements in Rome: squats, shanty towns, railway stations.

This report focuses in particular on the knowledge gained about migration routes, smuggling and trafficking on the way to Northern Africa and on the kind of violence and tortures migrants suffer during this long journey. The testimonies collected inside the reception centres in Sicily confirm that the business of migration across the Sahara Desert, Libya and the Mediterranean Sea appears to be increasingly a multiform network run by a combination of highly organized smugglers and non professional individuals or groups acting alone. The report also provides an overview of the psychological and physical consequences of the trauma experienced by migrants in their country of origin or en-route.

According to the testimonies collected in Sicily and in Rome, the most common forms of torture and cruel and inhuman treatment were: beatings and other forms of blunt trauma; deprivation of water and food; beatings of the feet (Falaka); suspension and stress positions (handcuffing, standing up for long periods etc); threats of harm and death to migrants or their families; sexual or religious offences and other forms of degrading treatment; deprivation of medical treatment when needed; bearing witness to torture and cruel treatment. The violence occurred particularly in Libya.

From the analysis of individual stories it’s clear that the traditional dichotomy between refugees and economic migrants proves to be more an abstract concept than a tool able to adequately understand such a complex reality. It’s undeniable for example that asylum seekers from West Africa may migrate in search of a better life but at the same time a large part of them –the same as many Eritreans who are escaping a brutal dictatorship – are escaping from a multitude of unbearable circumstances which pose a threat to their lives. Regardless of country of origin, many of them must therefore undoubtedly be considered as forced migrants.

The reception systems in Italy and Europe need to take into account the many vulnerabilities of asylum seekers who experienced this journey, as these factors remain upon their arrival.

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Medici per i Diritti Umani (MEDU) is a humanitarian independent organization. Since 2006 MEDU provides medical aid and socio-sanitary guidance to refugees living in precarious conditions through different programs. The project “ON TO: Stopping the torture of refugees from Sub-Saharan countries along the migratory route to Northern Africa” is funded by the European Union and the Open Society Foundations and implemented in Italy (Sicily and Rome) by Medici per i Diritti Umani (MEDU and in Israel by Hotline for Refugees and Migrants (HRM) and Physicians for Human Rights Israel (PHR). The purpose of the project is to enhance the identification and rehabilitation of victims of torture and ill treatment through direct provision of psychological and psychiatric assistance and to build a wide-ranging awareness campaign, to inform the public and relevant authorities in Italy and Europe on the issue of torture and cruel and inhuman treatment along the migratory routes from Sub-Saharan countries to Italy.

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