Study: More doctors needed to assess asylum seekers

June 17, 2018 GMT

More doctors are needed to assess claims of torture and persecution made by those seeking asylum from violence in such places as Central America. That’s according to a new paper, authored by researchers from three universities, including Yale University and the University of Connecticut.

The practice of asylum medicine is crucial to carrying out laws designed to protect people fleeing persecution and torture, said Dr. Katherine McKenzie, director of the Yale Center of Asylum Medicine and corresponding author of the paper published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

“We need doctors who perform these evaluations to tell their stories to the public, advocate to elected officials, and train young doctors in the practice of asylum medicine,” McKenzie said in a news release.

In 2016, 65 million people worldwide were displaced from their homes in places such as Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala due to human rights abuses. That same year, about 262,000 applied for asylum in the United States. These abuses have included torture, rape, repeated physical abuse, prolonged imprisonment, severe mental or emotional abuse, imminent and menacing death threats, and extreme economic punishments.


A medical forensic exam is often crucial in deciding whether applicants will be granted asylum, the authors note.

“Doctors who understand these issues will be better able to help applicants they are assessing navigate the process,” McKenzie said.

The paper states that widespread gang and domestic violence assures demand for doctors to help enforce the law, despite new restrictions imposed on June 11 by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The restrictions stated that victims of domestic abuse and gang violence no longer qualify for asylum, and limits protections to those seeking refuge from ethnic, political or religious persecution.

The paper’s authors that that, “despite years of international treaties and domestic law supporting asylum for individuals suffering persecution in their home countries, the Trump administration has continued to introduce new executive branch restrictions on asylum seekers,” according to a news release.

In addition to McKenzie, the paper is co-authored by Jon Bauer, clinical professor of law and director of the Asylum and Human Rights Clinic at the University of Connecticut and Dr. P. Preston Reynolds, professor of medicine and nursing at the University of Virginia School of Medicine.