The road to asylum includes medical exams that can be used as documentation

Oct 23, 2017

For immigrants and refugees seeking asylum, receiving proper medical evaluations before entering the United States could be lifesaving - especially for victims of torture.

Experts trained by Physicians for Human Rights gathered at the University at Buffalo this weekend to train health care providers in physical, gynecological and psychological forensic evaluation for asylum seekers. The university also trains providers at the Buffalo Federal Detention Center in Batavia.

UB Associate Professor of Family Medicine Kim Griswold said Buffalo is a popular location for Asylum seekers.

"For several reasons," she said. "One is that we have the largest shelter in the United States for asylum seekers, Vive La Casa. Also we have a lot of local resources, like the Center for Survivors, that are able to identify folks seeking asylum."

Griswold said given an asylum seeker must present their case in court, it is an evaluator’s job to work with attorneys as objective professionals.

Asylum seekers are processed at the Buffalo Federal Detention Center in Batavia.
Credit U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

"In other words, none of us that do these forensic exams are treating these particular individuals, but we are asked to provide external objective evaluations that will go toward helping to support their case in court, if the cases are found consistent with our medical or psychological state," she said.

Griswold said individuals are more likely to be granted asylum with documentation of the torture they experienced, which can become apparent during a medical exam. She said they use what is called the Istanbul Protocol to help determine the validity of a report of torture.

"Something that might be highly typical or highly consistent would be the imprint of a belt buckle in someone who tells you they've been beaten with a belt and a belt buckle and the buckle was imprinted, the scarring from the buckle is imprinted on that individual," she said. "That would be highly consistent with the report that the individual told to you."

The training was held in conjunction with the Western New York for Survivors of Torture, a collaboration of Jewish Family Service of Buffalo and Erie County, Journey’s End Refugee Services and the UB Department of Family Medicine.