Tuesday, November 27, 2012

St. Paul, MN—The Center for Victims of Torture™ (CVT) today announced it will provide community-based mental health counseling to Eritrean refugee torture and war trauma survivors living in refugees camps near Shire in northern Ethiopia. The project will also build the capacity of local refugee health, mental health and social services providers to better identify and serve torture and war trauma survivors over the long term.

The three refugee camps near Shire— Shimelba, Mai-Aini and Adi Harush—are home to tens of thousands of Eritrean refugees fleeing their home country. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees expects that number will increase by the end of 2013.

Many of the refugees are young men fleeing forced conscription into the Eritrean military, imprisonment and detention, persecution, and torture from their own government. As the Eritrean government has now begun to target the families of young men who flee the country to avoid military service, more women and children have also fled Eritrea seeking refuge in northern Ethiopia.

Once Eritrean refugees arrive at the camps, many hope for resettlement to third countries—a prospect that is impossible for most. Given that those refugees who cannot be resettled are also unable to return to their homes in Eritrea, some choose to make the dangerous and illegal journey through Sudan and Egypt in hope of reaching Israel or elsewhere to find work.  Along the way, they face the risk of torture, detention and imprisonment at the hands of security forces and human traffickers. In fact, the plight of Eritrean refugees and others trying to get to Israel was the subject of a recent report on CNN.

“Upwards to a thousand refugees arrive in the camps each month,” said Neal Porter, CVT’s Director of International Services. “The rates of torture, trauma and mental illness among the refugees are very high, yet there are virtually no mental health services available to respond to their need for counseling and psychiatric care. Through direct care and training, our work in Ethiopia will focus on meeting this immense need across all three camps now and will build the capacity of the local population to sustain this important healing work in the future.”

The effects of torture can lead to multiple disabling conditions that interfere with even the most basic functions of daily life.  Symptoms can include chronic pain in the muscles and joints, headaches, incessant nightmares and other sleep disorders, stomach pain and nausea, severe depression and anxiety, guilt, self-hatred, the inability to concentrate, thoughts of suicide and posttraumatic stress disorder.  Torture and war trauma survivors can become immobilized by their feelings and symptoms, unable to function within their communities or contribute to their family’s well-being.

To address the overwhelming mental health challenges, CVT will:

  • Provide in-depth mental health counseling services in the first year of operation to 600 Eritrean refugees living in the camps who are severely traumatized as a result of torture or war trauma, including survivors of gender-based violence living in the Mai-Aini and Adi Harush camps;
  • Hire, train and supervise refugees from Mai-Aini and Adi Harush to work as  psychosocial  counselors  and Ethiopian psychologists to work as clinical supervisors;
  • Train local psychiatric professionals and mental health counselors on providing appropriate and effective psychiatric care to refugees in all three camps;
  • Engage and train staff at other agencies and organizations on mental health, mental health services and the effects of torture and war trauma on individuals, families and communities.

CVT is currently in the process of hiring staff and finalizing plans for its clinical space in the refugee camps.

Funding for CVT’s work with Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia is from the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration.


CVT is a nonprofit based in Minnesota with an office in Washington D.C. and projects in Africa and the Middle East. Visit


Brad Robideau
brobideau [at]


Media Contact

Jenni Bowring-McDonough
Media Relations Manager
+1 612-436-4886 (office) or +1 651-226-3858 (mobile)
Journalists:  If you’d like to receive CVT press releases, please email your request to Jenni Bowring-McDonough at jbowring [at]




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