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Every day thousands of Syrian refugees pour over the borders of Syria and into nearby countries such as Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon. For many the journey is tough – in fleeing their anxieties in war-torn Syria they often encounter poverty, torture and death.
But for one family, the support they received from IRCT member Centre for Torture Victims (CVT) allowed them to tell their story. Here CVT recount their journey through rehabilitation.
The family, who wish to remain anonymous, left behind a comfortable life in Syria because they were afraid for their lives in the Syrian conflict. Their anxieties came from events they all experienced. The children were terrified by almost everything – the noise from planes, fireworks, and even people. They never went outside to play with other children for fear of being hurt. The parents too were scared – scared for their safety, the safety of their home and the safety of their family.
While the parents remained strong, both had depression and sleeping difficulties. Both were witness to some of the most harrowing scenes in Syria, including violent home searches.
Their small home was destroyed and, to save themselves, the family sought refuge in Jordan. It was to be a move leaving them with no money or shelter. One meal a day between the family of four was all they had.
When the family came to the CVT office, the parents only asked for help for their children. However it was evident that the entire family needed help.
After counselling both the parents and children, their anxieties began to disappear. But it was not until later on in this therapy when the father shared a frightening story he had never told anyone before. He shared an event where he almost lost his life. This experience caused all his physical and emotional symptoms.
In the family home in Syria, government soldiers entered one day and began searching the house. The family were threatened and terrorised before the father was ordered to leave the home. Outside with the soldiers, the father was threatened with death.
Different methods were discussed in front of him and, ultimately, his life was spared. When he returned inside the house the father stayed silent about his experience, and has suffered from nightmares and guilt ever since.
But the support from CVT helped these feelings subside. While these experiences may never be forgotten, the father said that the family felt valued and worthy – something they had not felt for a long time.
Soon the children began to laugh again. They began to play again and this, in turn, eased the anxieties the parents felt.
CVT continues to provide support for the family with counselling. Wounds take time to heal but, thanks to CVT support, this family is able to begin regaining control of their lives.
Rehabilitation, even in a few sessions, can lift the shadow of depression that torture brings.
Story edited by Ashley Scrace, Communications Officer with the IRCT. The original story was written by Laura Takacs and Adrienne Carter, psychotherapist/trainers with CVT Jordan – part of a team of psychotherapists, psychosocial counselors, physiotherapists, social workers and outreach staff and volunteers who travel to refugees unable to access the CVT centre.
Editor’s Note: This is the final blog in a regular series from centres involved in the Peer Support project (more fully described in our introduction blog here). See other previous posts in this series here.
I was discussing our work recently with the CEO of a company who are redesigning our website, and he exclaimed: “I don’t know how you deal with all of that on daily basis. I just don’t know”.
As of this month I have been working with SPIRASI for ten years, and I can’t count how many times I have been asked this question, both professionally and personally. It’s a question that I know others who work with asylum seekers grapple with; but it’s also something that over my ten years of being at SPIRASI we have tried, sometimes with limited success, to deal with.
It’s an important distinction, in this work with victims of torture, for me to state that I’m not a clinician. I’m neither a psychologist nor doctor, although I have been asked a good few times if I’m a priest given that we’ve been founded by a religious order called the Spiritans (I’m not). Being a non-clinician does mean that I don’t meet with clients to conduct assessments or therapy sessions. Although I do interact with some of the clients of our centre, it’s often unscheduled and normally from a distance. This distinction in our work is important because it can determine not only the impact of the work, but how the response to that impact is often formulated and how readily you can identify the impact.
I think it’s only natural that on the scale of need in the centre for support that I and other administrative staff are often the lowest on that scale – especially when you are aware of the depth of suffering and despair of our clients and what confronts our clinical team. Before the Peer Support Project, we only really thought of the need to support staff in terms of that front line clinical team and along traditional lines, such as individual supervision for therapists. There is an undeniable and demonstrable need to ensure that therapists, social workers and physicians receive regular supervision and support, but the Peer Support Project has shifted this assumption in our organisation. We now accept the need to provide support to those on that lower and less visible end of the spectrum.
Non-clinical team members are impacted by the work. This impact is often through high levels of stress and some vicarious traumatisation and these needs cannot be ignored by rehabilitation centres. Through the use of the Stress Management Cycle (SMC) that was shared by the Antares Foundation, we now have the ability to approach the stress related to the work in a much more systematic and considered way.
As a result of working daily with victims of torture, it becomes a challenge to see beyond the individual needs of victims and focus on self, team and organisation. The SMC gives us the tools to look at what needs to be in place on a policy level and to ensure that through the time of an employee/intern/volunteer within our organisation, from selection and induction through to post employment support, that we have appropriate mechanisms to support staff, both clinical and non-clinical.
The work is stressful and difficult, and I now readily admit to people like the CEO of our web-design company that it is. But I also make the point to him that it is one of the most rewarding and inspiring jobs that I could have ever wished for and that it’s an honour to work for victims of torture.
By Greg Straton, Director of SPIRASI, Ireland
Editor’s Note: This is the second of two blogs on the Latin American Regional Seminar, which took place in Quito, Ecuador a few weeks ago. Read the first one here. Here, IRCT member Equipo Argentino de Trabajo e Investigación Psicosocial (EATIP) of Argentina speaks about the work – and the challenges — of rehabilitating indigenous victims of torture in Latin America.
We want to share our views on torture rehabilitation in the multicultural environment in Argentina, as discussed at the 16th Regional Meeting of the Latin American network of institutions working against torture.
Argentina has a hegemonic culture related to the flood of European migrants from the end of the 19th century to the middle of the 20th century. This culture often does not include the perspectives of the native populations, aggravated by political and administrative centralism. Equipo Argentino de Trabajo e Investigación Psicosocial (EATIP) gives priority to social class factors, including also ethnic and gender factors.
The Latin America regional network is giving more attention to violation of indigenous people rights, especially related to the protection of their territories due to exploitation of natural resources (mining, oil, etc.), cultivation of soya, etc., in which important corporative interests are at the stake. Other characteristics of this problematic situation are the social polarization and confrontation between groups and members in the communities due to co-optation by governments.
For interventions with these groups, we used community-based approaches. For psychosocial interventions in those cases, specific training of professionals is needed. At the present, the economic difficulties that EATIP and other centres in the region are facing impede the continuity of these activities. EATIP has assisted migrant groups from Bolivia, Paraguay and Peru, who live in slums called “Villas Miserias”; and African youths and political refugees.
In the 16th Regional Meeting of the Latin American members of IRCT and allied organisations, our centres identified that the inter-cultural factors have strong significance that enrich our work.
By Dr Mariana Lagos and Mr Ely Stacco, Clinical and Psychosocial Area, EATIP, Argentina
There are numerous ways to mark the 26 June, the UN Day in Support of Victims of Torture. And this year, we have been impressed with the diversity of activities, but also the diversity of ways organisations have reached out the public, whether through radio broadcasts or public demonstrations.
To showcase this vast array of events, the IRCT held a contest – the 10 organisations with the best photos will have a full page of our annual 26 June Global Report to show off their activities. Here are the chosen 10.
Congratulations to all those who were selected and a huge thanks to all the organisations that sent us photos. They were all impressive.
IRCT member Freedom from Torture has released an extensive and heartbreaking report on poverty, torture and access to rehabilitation in the UK.
Their report, entitled “The Poverty Barrier: The Right to Rehabilitation for Survivors of Torture in the UK”, sheds new light on the reality that poverty is “both a structural cause and a consequence of torture”, as Juan Mendez, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, writes in the foreword. This is also echoed in the London Declaration on Poverty and Torture that the IRCT released in 2011.
This research is especially salient in light of major steps made in advocating for torture victims’ right to rehabilitation services. Just last year, the UN Committee against Torture released General Comment 3 – a document that clarifies the obligations of states that are parties to the UNCAT to provide adequate, accessible and appropriate rehabilitation services to victims of torture.
As Freedom from Torture demonstrates in the UK context in this report, many countries are not living up to their obligations.
“Impoverished living conditions that deprive survivors of torture the safe recovery environment necessary for rehabilitative therapy to be accessible or effective raise serious questions about compliance by state parties,” Mendez writes.
In “The Poverty Barrier”, Freedom from Torture demonstrates clearly how torture survivors – asylum seekers and refugees in the UK context – remain in dire poverty as they move through and beyond the asylum system and how this poverty directly impedes their progress in rehabilitation. A vast majority – 67 of the 85 interviewed – reported they were living in poverty in the UK. This meant, for most, they could not afford sufficient food, clothing or health and hygiene items. Further, for many, poverty impeded their access to the asylum system and rehabilitation services as they could often not afford travel costs, such as bus and train fares, for essential appointments. Their inability to travel or work also contributed to their socially exclusion, with many being unable to visit family and friends or participate in the life of the community, which further impeded their full recovery from their torture and trauma.
The report is filled with examples from survivors of torture, clients of Freedom from Torture, and photos from their homes and daily life that demonstrate the poverty they endure. Visit Freedom from Torture’s website to read the full version of the report.
There are laws abolishing torture. Laws, both international and domestic, that dictate that torture is a crime, a human rights violation, with no extenuating circumstances; that states are obligating to investigate and prosecute these crimes.
This is true in many countries in the world, including the Philippines, where the Medical Action Group (MAG) , an IRCT member, is based. But how do you take a policy and make it good practice?
As seen in the video above, taking that step means targeting the prosecutors and investigators themselves.
“This is to emphasize the close collaboration between the legal and police professions,” says Edeliza P. Hernandez, Executive Director of MAG. “However, investigators and prosecutors most often have limited knowledge and understanding of and insight into each other’s work and may even view each other with skepticism. This training of investigators and prosecutors on investigation and documentation of torture cases is crucial process in providing them common ground and framework to work on the application of international standards for effective investigation and successful prosecution of torture cases in the country.”
Investigations into crimes of torture are challenging, admits PCSupt. Nestor M. Fajura, Head of the Philippine National Police (PNP) Human Rights Affairs Office, in the video. There are difficulties in the officers’ abilities and skills to investigate such crimes and difficulties in linking the crimes to a specific perpetrator.
But as this project shows, skills and knowledge of effective investigation can be improved.
Investigators from the PNP and other criminal justice organisations learned about improved medical evidence and documentation of torture, the legal framework for which torture is criminalized in the domestic law and confronting the challenges that arise when police officers must investigate their peers.
But using forensic documentation of torture and fully investigating these crimes, says forensic expert Dr Benito Molino, is a step toward reducing impunity, toward reducing torture and one day to eradicating it fully.
Watch the video here from MAG to see this project in action.
Editor’s Note: This is the sixth in a regular series from centres involved in the Peer Support project (more fully described in our earlier blog here). See other previous posts in this series here, here, here, here and here.
“Our mission is to help, and when we feel that someone is trying to help us, this creates a good feeling and gives us wings for go on our mission”
In everyday life, working with victims of torture generates stressful moments. Why? Because we are always confronted with persons whose needs are many and varied, and our ability to cover their needs are often very limited. Our mission is to help, but we cannot always do so. This spirit of bitterness depletes us little by little. We remain marked by a sad story of life, a crippled body and a suffering soul.
How do we unload our soul? How do we free ourselves from what we have gained and what ails us?
All these questions arose in my mind many years ago. Ever since, I always tried to find new answers, new solutions. I started my work for victims of torture 13 years ago as director of MRCT Craiova Romania. Eight-hundred twenty-nine patients are registered at our centre. Every year we regularly assist 140 people with approximately 660 medical consultations and 2,400 physiotherapy sessions. The services are provided by the organization staff consisting of 11 persons. For information on who we are and what we do you can to our website: www.icarmed.ro.
One of the major problems I faced during all these years was to retain staff considering that the financial resources for salaries were always poor. In these circumstances, I think it is important for employees to have a job that comes with love, and to be part of a team in which everyone is united with the other for better and for the worse. This is a difficult goal to achieve, but great things are an accumulation of little things and I think that every step is important.
One step was to devise a questionnaire in order to try to know more about the mood of the team — hardships in facing problems that grind desires and aspirations. For me this questionnaire was and is useful. I chose this way of communication because often, when we stand all together, with all eyes glued to us when we speak, we find it difficult to express what we think, what we are upset about and what we want. The questionnaire is outlined on the bottom of this blogpost, and might be interesting for debate to improve it or maybe as a tool for partners in Peer Support Project.
Another important step is our participation to the Peer Support project, which is driven by a valuable team of project managers and trainers from whom we acquire knowledge. We learned best practices and applied them in our daily work to improve the well-being of the organisation.
We learned when to use the clinical intervision method, which helps us find better solutions to resolving the difficult cases. Since February, we have had monthly clinical intervision sessions.
After the Barcelona training, we realized that is very important to have a defined strategy for stress management in our organisation.
Another positive aspect of the Peer Support project is that we feel good to see how the three leading organisations (IRCT, Antares, bzfo) made their experience and expertise available in support of the six newly participating organisations to acquire similar skills. It simply feels so good when you see that someone wants to do something for you!
By Simona Smarandache, Director of MRCT Craiova Romania
- NAME ……………………………………………………
- DATE OF EMPLOYMENT………………………………………………………
- DATE OF COMPLETION…………………………………………………..
- WORK PROGRAMME ……………………………………………………….
- Do you know your responsibilities according to your job description? Institutional Code of Conduct? Organizational Code of Conduct?
- Describe the activity which you perform in the centre:
- What problems do you have regarding your activity, who/ what generates them, what solution do you think there are for resolving them?
- What dissatisfactions do you have?
- What are your expectations?
- Do you want to continue your activity within the centre? If YES, for how long? For a short/ medium long period of time? What are your aspirations?
- How do you see your activity in the future?
- What does MRCT Craiova represents for you?
- Do you have disagreements with your colleagues? But complaints about them?
- Do you have disagreements with your superiors? But complaints about them?
- Do you have disagreements with the director of the centre? But complaints about him/her?
- Are you satisfied with the working conditions, with the working environment in the centre? What are your suggestions and wishes in this respect?
- Do you have family problems? Are these problems related to your work place?
- Do you have any health problems? What are them? Are these problems caused by your work?
- Are you satisfied with your salary? Do you feel it is according to your efforts?
Editor’s Note: This is the fifth in a regular series from centres involved in the Peer Support project (more fully described in our earlier blog here). See other previous posts in this series here, here, here and here.
My colleague Tony is preparing for his second week of training in Intervision .Shortly after that, we will host a visit by the programme trainers and leaders in which we hope to move the lessons learned through our organisation by offering training to key staff. Much more on that in the next blog post!
As we have a small team in our North East of England Centre where Tony and I work, we are very easily able to pilot different approaches to work. For some time we have been organising regular Away Days for both staff and volunteers. We have sometimes gone to a retreat centre out in the countryside away from the city of Newcastle upon Tyne, where we are based, and we most often use this time for reviewing and planning our work programmes.
As a result of the Self Care training programme that Tony has been involved in designing, which I mentioned in the previous blog. As a result, we decided to arrange a smaller Away Day for the Clinical Team – those working therapeutically with survivors of torture. I now see this as an integral part of the broader Peer Support Project.
After some discussion, we decided we would go to each other’s homes to meet and that the host would prepare lunch. I was worried that we were invading each other’s personal space and even adding additional stress to each other, but soon saw that we all enjoyed taking care of our colleagues by the simple act of offering food. We are open to moving to a neutral venue, but so far the positives of going to each other’s homes have been substantial.
By now, we have met in this way three times. Each meeting has been valuable. The sense of distance from work by being in each other’s homes has helped us to get a deeper connection to each other that allows an intimacy that is very important in helping us support each other.
We structure the time based on a loose version of Intervision, where each worker can speak uninterruptedly about the impact that our work has on them, the challenges they face and the detail of the therapy they are trying to achieve. In the end, questions asked and comments are made in the spirit of Intervision.
We have been able to share thoughts and feelings that we find difficult to disclose even to our clinical supervisors —while they are often very experienced therapists and supervisors with an interest in trauma, they usually aren’t specialists in torture trauma therapy.
We have discovered that we were frightened of hurting them with the horrible details of the torture our clients have experienced. Yet we were holding such material inside ourselves, and we were unwilling to tell even our closest colleagues in case of adding to their burden.
Now we seem more able and willing to share such material and also our reactions to working as therapists with that.
In one meeting, I recall saying that there are times when I feel like I don’t want to hear any more about torture for a day. One of our teams shared that they will often go for a walk along the riverside near our offices when they need a break. I often make an espresso and look out of the window at the world passing by, and near our offices there is much to see. Nearby is a hotel where many people, who want to go to parties in our city, will stay and they often wear fancy dress – sometimes I see 10 men dressed as Superman, or in clothing for playing tennis with huge inflatable tennis rackets.
That helps me to see the funny side of this world that isn’t tainted by torture and is a valuable part of putting our work in proportion, as well as encouraging a sense of humour.
The away days have helped us to become a closer, more understanding and more supportive team.
Next week, we have a further such Away Day for the Clinical Team. I’ll ask if I can take some photos for this blog.
By Alan Brice, Centre Manager, North East Centre, Freedom from Torture
Editor’s Note: This is the fourth in a regular series from centres involved in the Peer Support project (more fully described in our earlier blog here). See other previous posts in this series here, here and here.
I work for Freedom from Torture (previously known as the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture) as Manager of our centre in the North East of England in Newcastle upon Tyne. We have a big centre in London and others that are smaller around the country in Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow. More than 50,000 survivors of torture have been helped since we started our work over 25 years ago. We employ about 170 staff (the majority are part-time) and are delighted to have about the same number of volunteers working with us.
We have been developing a training programme for staff on Self Care recently. Tony Wright, who is in my team in the North East Centre, was involved in its design and delivery. Tony is a therapist who also leads training initiatives for us in the North East. The Self Care programme is designed to help staff know more about how working with survivors of torture — hearing their stories, feeling their distress, typing reports documenting torture — impacts on each member of staff. With greater understanding and greater awareness of the damage that can be done to staff, the programme then encourages staff to reflect on how they can be healthier in the work.
When we heard of the Peer Support Project, we were both very interested to be involved. As the Centre Manager, I am also a therapist and am part of the National Clinical Secretariat that oversees clinical issues in the organisation. Taking care of our clients means taking care of each other. If we are not healthy and working to our best we cannot support our clients through the terrible traumas they have experienced. It was a really valuable addition that Celine Conaghan, our Human Resources Manager, was also keen to join the Peer Support project team.
We learned a lot in the week in Barcelona – the trainers worked us pretty hard – and we began to think differently about how to organise ourselves to help each other better. Having the chance to talk with staff in other organisations across Europe was really valuable. It gave us ideas and perspectives that we did not expect. Hearing about the Intervision approach and discussing how others have applied it, made us interested in applying it to our own context.
We did manage to have a little time away from the subject of Peer Support project and many of us went to la Sagrada Família, the amazing church designed by the architect Gaudi. Attached are a couple of photos from our visit there – the light flooding into the building through the stained glass is astonishing.
We noticed a statue near the entrance that was very evocative of the suffering we encounter in our work.
Tony and I found the Foundation of the Catalan artist Antoni Tapies, who was born in Barcelona. One of his pieces of art, a rolled up mattress, reminded us of the experience of many people forced to flee their homes across the world to find safety, food and welcome and who can take just a few items like such a mattress with them.
Back home the three of us have carefully discussed how we can introduce the learning from Barcelona into the work of our organisation. In the North East we have established regular Away Days for the staff team when we can get away from the office and hear each other’s concerns and achievements also. Nationally across the organisation, Celine has sent lots of information around so that staff and volunteers are informed and involved. We want them to be as excited as we are. We are looking forward to the Project Support Visit, which we hope will be in June. During that visit we intend to introduce aspects of Peer Support to the Senior Managers of the organisation and to selected teams. By then Tony will have been on his second additional training on applying Intervision, and we plan to roll out that training across the organisation after that. Next time we blog we will be explaining how our Away Days are working.
By Alan Brice, Centre Manager, North East Centre, Freedom from Torture