“The Torture Roads”- Two year investigation by the World Organisation Against Torture exposes torture as a defining feature of migration journey for many sub-Saharan African refugees and migrants

The World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) has released the findings of a two-year multi-country investigation into the patterns, prevalence and risks of torture and other ill-treatment, pre-flight and along select migration routes originating in west and central Africa towards north Africa and Europe, with a focus on Niger, Chad, Tunisia, Kenya, Uganda, Mali, Sudan and Senegal. The investigation was conducted by OMCT partner organisations based in these countries.  Jelia Sane was instructed to lead the country investigations, advise on the applicable international legal framework and author the final overarching report (together with Maria Holmblad, of Holmblad Consulting).

While Libya and the Mediterranean have received considerable attention over the last few years, the investigation shows that torture and other ill-treatment are prevalent along a number of migration routes in sub-Saharan Africa, and that for many migrants, the journey to safety and survival is all too often characterised  by unspeakable brutality and cruelty. Migration control policies adopted by African states based on containment and deterrence, including criminalisation and prolonged detention-often in appalling conditions; militarisation of border control; refoulement; and pullback operations, have exposed migrants to serious human rights abuses, including torture and ill-treatment. In many contexts, these measures are adopted under pressure from the European Union (EU) and Member States in an attempt to curb irregular migration to Europe by externalising border control to  countries of origin and countries of transit in Africa.  Far from reducing the number of irregular migrants, these measures have driven many people to resort to even more dangerous routes and straight into the hands of smugglers and traffickers, thus  heightening  their vulnerability to violence and exploitation. First-hand accounts were received of rape and other forms of sexual violence; of forced labour and slavery; of people asphyxiating in overcrowded trucks, being kidnapped for ransom, thrown off boats or left to die in the desert, in complete impunity. Moreover, the investigation shows major challenges remain in terms of the early identification and rehabilitation of migrant torture survivors travelling along these routes,  who have a right to an effective remedy and who require special protection and specialised assistance, irrespective of their legal status.  Much of the migration policies that criminalise or deter migrants risk to retraumatize survivors of torture. 

The investigation report was launched at a press conference in Dakar, Senegal, on 15 December 2021, and contains concrete recommendations for African states, the EU, and civil society stakeholders on how to enhance the protection of people and ensure that migration control measures are anchored in the full respect for fundamental rights, including the torture prohibition, regardless of legal status. 

Jelia Sane is a specialist practitioner in International Law and Immigration and Asylum Law. You can find out more about her practice here.