On the forefront: The challenges facing torture rehabilitation in northern Iraq

WWT - Members series

In the blog this week we profile the newest member of the IRCT network, the Kirkuk Center for Torture Victims, offering torture rehabilitation in northern Iraq.

The logo for the new centre

The logo for the new centre

Founded in 2005, the Kirkuk Center for Torture Victims is an important multi-branched organisation offering rehabilitative services to victims of torture in the region. It is the second IRCT member in Iraq, and was founded with support from the Berlin Center for Torture Victims, a leading European institution caring for survivors of torture, persecution and genocide.

The Kirkuk centre offers services tailored to a wide variety of social groups including female and young victims of torture, victims of genocide, refugees who are survivors of torture, and many more.

Quite simply, thanks to extensive support programmes, there is no one the centre cannot help. This openness has been highlighted once more with their recent treatment of an influx of Syrian refugees at the centre whom, despite fleeing their homeland in large numbers, have had the same excellent treatment from the Kirkuk centre.

The deep understanding of the challenges refugees particularly face is perhaps ingrained in the centre’s beliefs thanks to the experience of Salah Ahmed, founder and chairman of the centre.

Himself being of Kurdish-Iraqi origin, Salah Ahmad fled his home country in 1981 and sought refuge in Germany, where he studied pedagogics and later on became a psychotherapist. At the Berlin Center for Torture Victims he has treated hundreds of survivors of torture from all over the world.

The map showing locations of the many branches of the Kirkuk Center for Torture Victims

The locations of the many branches of the Kirkuk Center for Torture Victims

After the fall of the Saddam regime, Mr. Ahmed returned to his hometown Kirkuk where in 2005 he established the first rehabilitation centre for survivors of torture in Iraq.

Until today, he still recalls one of his first patients, a young woman who had been imprisoned, tortured and held a sex slave for more than 10 years by Saddam’s security forces.

“She had had multiple abortions and given birth to three children in prison. It took more than one year of intensive therapy until I saw this woman smile for the first time”, recalls Salah Ahmad. “She was my first patient in Kirkuk and the biggest challenge of my professional career.”

Since these first days, the Kirkuk Center has come a long way. “Many things have changed since the first patient walked through our door,” Salah says. “The political and the security situation in Kirkuk and in Central Iraq is really worrying. But we have been able to help more than 11,000 patients in six cities in north Iraq.

“When I travel through my country and visit the big cities in the north, I think that hope always dies last. What we have built in this country during the past 10 years is incredible.”

 

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