Skip to main content

Demographic characteristics of survivors of torture presenting for treatment to a national centre for survivors of torture in Ireland (2001–2012)

  • R. M. Duffy (a1), S. O’Sullivan (a2), G. Straton (a3), B. Singleton (a4) and B. D. Kelly (a5)...

The asylum process has received a lot of recent media attention but little has been said about the psychological needs of those seeking or granted asylum. Many asylum seekers have experienced trauma and torture, which is associated with substantial psychiatric and psychological morbidity. The Spiritan Asylum Services Initiative (Spirasi) is Ireland’s national treatment centre for survivors of torture. The aim of this study was to examine the demographic profile of those attending Spirasi and to consider potential clinical implications of this.


We retrospectively analysed demographic data relating to the 2590 individuals who attended Spirasi over a 12-year period (2001–2012 inclusive).


The majority of attenders were asylum seekers (88%), male (71%) and from African countries. The mean age was 31.9 years. The rate of new referrals, as a percentage of Ireland’s asylum-seeking population, has stabilised at ~6% since 2008. Women are underrepresented among those who attend.


The number of new referrals to Spirasi is lower than expected given international estimates of torture prevalence and the impact this has on mental health. Clinicians working with populations of asylum seekers and refugees should sensitively enquire about such events and be aware of the available services. Female refugees and asylum seekers are underrepresented, especially from Asian and Middle Eastern regions. Psychiatric, psychological and general practice services need to respond flexibly to evolving patterns of migration and address potential barriers to access, especially among female refugees and asylum seekers.

Corresponding author
*Address for correspondence: Dr R. M. Duffy, Senior Registrar in General Adult Psychiatry, Cluain Mhuire Services, Newtownpark Ave, Blackrock, A94 H9T1 Co. Dublin, Ireland. (Email:
Hide All
Amnesty International (2016). Amnesty International Report 2015/16: The State of the World’s Human Rights. Amnesty International: London.
Asgary, R, Segar, N (2011). Barriers to health care access among refugee asylum seekers. Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Undeserved 22, 506522.
Barthel, F, Neumayer, E (2015). Spatial dependence in asylum migration. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 41, 11311151.
British Refugee Council (2012). Refugee Council Briefing: The Experiences of Refugee Women in the UK. British Refugee Council: London.
Burnett, A, Peel, M (2001). Health needs of asylum seekers and refugees. British Medical Journal 322, 544547.
Crumlish, N, O’Rourke, K (2010). A systematic review of treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder among refugees and asylum-seekers. Journal of Nervous & Mental Disease 198, 237251.
Data Protection Commissioner (2007). Data Protection Guidelines on Research in the Health Sector. Data Protection Commissioner: Dublin.
Drotbohm, H, Hasselberg, I (2015). Deportation, anxiety, justice: new ethnographic perspectives. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 41, 551562.
Duffy, RM, Kelly, BD (2015). Psychiatric assessment and treatment of survivors of torture. British Journal of Psychiatry Advances 21, 106115.
Gerritsen, AA, Bramsen, I, Devillé, W, van Willigen, LH, Hovens, JE, van der Ploeg, HM (2006). Physical and mental health of Afghan, Iranian and Somali asylum seekers and refugees living in the Netherlands. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology 41, 1826.
Green, D, Rasmussen, A, Rosenfeld, B (2010). Defining torture: a review of 40 years of health science research. Journal of Traumatic Stress 23, 528531.
Health Service Executive (HSE) (2014). National Service Plan 2015. Health Service executive: Dublin.
Hinshelwood, G (1997). Gender-Based Persecution: United Nations Expert Group Meeting on Gender-Based Persecution. United Nations: Toronto, ON.
Honeyball, M (2016). On the Situation of Women Refugees and Asylum Seekers in the EU. Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality: Brussels.
HSE: Social Inclusion Unit (2009). On Speaking Terms: Good Practice Guidelines for HSE Staff in the Provision of Interpreting Services. HSE: Dublin.
International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT) (2012). Annual Report 2011. International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims: Copenhagen.
Jaranson, JM, Quiroga, J (2011). Evaluating the services of torture rehabilitation programmes: history and recommendations. Torture 21, 98140.
Johnson, H, Thompson, A (2008). The development and maintenance of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in civilian adult survivors of war trauma and torture: a review. Clinical Psychology Review 28, 3647.
Kalt, A, Hossain, M, Kiss, L, Zimmerman, C (2013). Asylum seekers, violence and health: a systematic review of research in high income host countries. American Journal of Public Health 103, 3042.
Laban, CJ, Gernaat, H, Komproe, IH, Schreuders, BA, De Jong, J (2004). Impact of a long asylum procedure on the prevalence of psychiatric disorders in Iraqi asylum seekers in the Netherlands. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 192, 843851.
Lutz, H (2010). Gender in the migratory process. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 36, 16471663.
Masmas, TN, Møller, E, Buhmannr, C, Bunch, V, Jensen, JH, Hansen, TN, Jørgensen, LM, Kjaer, C, Mannstaedt, M, Oxholm, A, Skau, J, Theilade, L, Worm, L, Ekstrøm, M (2008). Asylum seekers in Denmark – a study of health status and grade of traumatization of newly arrived asylum seekers. Torture 18, 7786.
Nwachukwu, I, Browne, D, Tobin, J (2009). The Mental Health Service Requirements for Asylum Seekers and Refugees in Ireland. College of Psychiatrists of Ireland: Dublin.
O’Connell, M, Duffy, R, Crumlish, N (2016). Refugees, asylum and mental health care in Ireland. BJPsych International 13, 3537.
Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner (ORAC) (2013). Annual Report 2012. Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner: Dublin.
Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner (ORAC) (2016 a). Monthly Statistical Report, December 2015. Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner: Dublin.
Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner (ORAC) (2016 b). Monthly Statistical Report, Feb 2016. Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner: Dublin.
Piwowarczyk, L, Keane, TM, Lincoln, A (2008). Hunger: the silent epidemic among asylum seekers and resettled refugees. International Migration 46, 5977.
Silove, D (1999). The psychosocial effects of torture, mass human rights violations, and refugee trauma: toward an integrated conceptual framework. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 187, 200207.
Stanciole, AE, Huber, M (2009). Access to Health Care for Migrants, Ethnic Minorities, and Asylum Seekers in Europe. European Centre for Social Welfare Policy and Research: Vienna.
Steel, Z, Chey, T, Silove, D, Marnane, C, Bryant, RA, van Ommeren, M (2009). Association of torture and other potentially traumatic events with mental health outcomes among populations exposed to mass conflict and displacement: a systematic review and meta analysis. The Journal of the American Medical Association 302, 537549.
United Nations (UN) (1984). Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. United Nations: Geneva.
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (2013). UNHCR Statistical Yearbook 2012. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees: Geneva.
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (2015). UNHCR Mid Year Trends 2015. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees: Geneva.
World Medical Association (2008). World Medical Association Declaration of Helsinki: Ethical Principles for Medical Research Involving Human Subjects. World Medical Association: Ferney-Voltaire.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Irish Journal of Psychological Medicine
  • ISSN: 0790-9667
  • EISSN: 2051-6967
  • URL: /core/journals/irish-journal-of-psychological-medicine
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *