Medical Foundation

8 July 1999


Herrn VLR I Dr Peter Schmidt
Referat 311
Postfach 1148
D-53001 Bonn

Dear Dr Schmidt,

Re: Non-refoulement of failed asylum seekers to Algeria

Enclosed please find a copy of a new report published by the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, a London-based charity. This new report presents evidence of torture in Algeria, as documented from the cases of 70 Algerian torture survivors medically examined at our London treatment centre during the past five years. The report is written by Dr Michael Peel, one of our consultant physicians, and is based on forensic medical reports written by 11 different Medical Foundation doctors.

I am writing specifically to argue the case for non-refoulement of failed asylum seekers to Algeria so long as verifiable improvements to the human rights situation there are not clear and confirmed. This issue concerns other EU governments as well as Germany, but the Medical Foundation is particularly disturbed by reports from Germany that the German immigration authorities may be cooperating directly with Algerian security forces to effect the removal of Algerians from Germany to Algeria. I should very much appreciate a response on this point.

While we welcome the reported moves toward the release of political prisoners in Algeria and other measures to improve the political climate, we maintain that specific measures should be taken to improve the human rights situation and to end impunity for those accused of torture.

May I draw your particular attention to the two sections of Dr Peel’s report. First, the Algerian Government enjoys total impunity for its gross violations of human rights:

  • Incommunicado detention is prevalent.
  • The courts ignore defendants’ allegations that confessions were extracted under torture.
  • Members of the security forces are not charged or brought to trial for torture or extrajudicial executions.
  • The government has closed down all attempts to gain access to the country by professional human rights monitors, be they from the UN or from international NGOs.

The last paragraph of page 12 of the report gives an indication of this impunity in practice: a very large percentage of our Algerian patients (84%) showed significant scarring or other physical signs of torture. This is unusually high, and it indicates that the Algerian security forces do not care what evidence they leave on their victims’ bodies. One can only assume that they know they will not be brought to account for their crimes.

Pages 12 of Dr Peel’s report indicates the Algerian methods of torture that Medical Foundation doctors have documented during the past five years, and the longterm effects on our Algerian patients are summarised on page 13. What is remarkable is the high percentage of severe symptoms. These patients experience symptoms that are as severe as those we see in torture survivors from genocidal events in Rwanda and Sierre Leone.

Our contention is that it remains unsafe to return failed Algerian asylum seekers to Algiers, where they will in all likelihood be detained and interrogated about supposed links to European Islamist groups, and quite possibly tortured or « disappeared ».

As evidence to support our argument, I draw your attention to the injuries sustained by « Mr L », whose case history is cited as on pages 16-17 of the report. Mr L was an Algerian asylum seeker who was refouled to Algiers in early 1996, having failed in his asylum application in Britain. We do not quarrel with that decision by the British authorities when it was made: Mr L says that he was not politically involved although he had been detained (but not ill-treated) in 1992 for putting up political slogans for the FIS (as part of paid employment, not because he was a member) and was required to report regularly to a police station in Algiers. The main reasons for his first flight from Algeria were related to avoiding conscription into the Algerian army and fear of the Islamists, who had noticed his regular visits to the Algiers police station. Mr L subsequently applied for asylum in Holland, but did not see the process through, applied for asylum in Britain in 1994, was refused in 1995, flew to San Francisco, was returned to Britain within two hours, was detained at Haslar Detention Centre, tried to escape, was imprisoned at Rochester Prison and refouled to Algiers under British escort in February 1996.

Our concern about this case begins from the moment of his arrival in Algiers. Mr L was detained at the airport, interrogated for seven days about his FIS connections in London (which he did not have), then taken to a different, underground detention centre in Algiers where he was systematically cut with a « cut-throat razor » on his arms and back. He passed out, was treated alone in a clinic, where a blow to the top of his head was tended but where no effort was made to suture his many deep cuts. Subsequently he escaped during transport of a group of prisoners whose guards were killed in an Islamist ambush through a forested area. His language skills were useful to the Islamist attackers, and he was ultimately escorted to a port from which he fled a second time to Britain, arriving here in late 1996.

We have spoken to medical staff at both Haslar and Rochester, who tell us that Mr L’s medical examinations there revealed nothing obvious like cut wounds, and it was from Rochester Prison that he was escorted to Algiers. We have a detailed medical report from January 1998, including photographs that show the wide scars and badly healed wounds from the systematic cutting.

Mr L was never a member of any Islamist organisation and was not otherwise politically involved. Nor was he handed over to the Algerians by the British authorities who escorted him to Algiers. This case, as well as the detailed evidence of torture in Algiers and Algeria over several years, confirms our belief that it is unsafe to refoul any failed asylum seeker to Algiers or Algeria at this time.

I should note that after we raised the case of Mr L with the British Home Office, he was granted full refugee status. The point to emphasise is not that the Home Office got it wrong the first time (in 1995-96), but that it would be wrong today, knowing what we know about the torture of refouled asylum seekers, to return failed asylum seekers to Algeria.

While it could be argued that this case dates from 1996 and that the situation is improving in Algeria, I would emphasise that Mr L’s case is the last known case of anyone being refouled to Algeria (from Britain) and escaping to tell what happened to him. Should refoulement of Algerians recommence before the human rights situation is confirmed as improved in Algeria, we would regard this as taking too high a risk with the lives of those who might be sent back.

By « confirmed », I draw attention to the four signs of impunity mentioned earlier: the ending of incommunicado detention, the disallowance by the courts of confessions extracted under torture, the investigation and prosecution of alleged torturers, and allowing international human rights monitoring organisations (e.g., the Special Rapporteurs and Amnesty International) to investigate human rights violations in Algeria. These steps should rank high among the tests of whether the Algerian Government is serious about improving its human rights record.

I should appreciate your bringing this letter and report to the attention of the appropriate asylum authorities in Germany. I should also appreciate any information you can give me regarding current German policy with regard to the refoulement of Algerian failed asylum seekers.

Yours faithfully,

Sherman Carroll, PhD
Director of Public Affairs

Enclosure: FAILURE TO PROTECT, Survivors of torture from Algeria