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Staff Insights

The U.S. Must Remain a Beacon to Refugees

Published May 18, 2017
Huy Pham

Huy Pham is the project manager for National Capacity Building at CVT.

There is a global crisis at hand. Sixty-five million people have been displaced from their home countries by warfare, violence, famine and torture. We have not witnessed a refugee crisis of so many individuals since World War II. Refugee camps are overcrowded. The resources and capacities of most NGOs are being stretched thin. Research shows that 44% of refugees living in the United States are torture survivors. That is an estimated 1.3 million. This is an unfathomable number for most people to comprehend. Imagine the entire population of San Diego. The world’s refugee crisis is also torture crisis.

While I am not a victim of torture, I am a war refugee from Vietnam. My family and I fled Saigon on April 30, 1975 – the day of the fall of Saigon. We resettled in Wisconsin where I graduated from college and joined the Peace Corps. I have since worked in international development and humanitarian relief for over 20 years, in conflict and fragile states in Africa, Asia and the Balkans. The Peace Corps led me to Liberia, where I lived and worked from 1986 to 1988. After the first Liberian war, I returned as an international monitor during the presidential elections of 1997. As a relief worker I managed humanitarian programs for returning Liberian refugees in the early to mid-2000s, following the second Liberian civil conflict. Despite years of exposure to war trauma and torture, the Liberian people proved to be remarkably resilient in seeking to rebuild their lives and a peaceful future for their families and their country. And for thousands of others, many resettled in Minnesota – one of the largest expatriate Liberian communities outside Liberia, they have become productive residents and contribute positively to the state’s social fabric and economic well-being.

During the Yugoslav wars in the 1990s, ethnic and religious minority refugees were scattered throughout the Balkans region, traumatized by the genocidal campaigns perpetrated by Serbian and other belligerent forces. Rape became a systematic weapon of war and torture, an integral part of ethnic cleansing, and later, was prosecuted as a crime against humanity by the tribunals following the end of the Balkans war. I was part of an international humanitarian response that promoted the safe return of ethnic minority refugees to their place of origin, to reclaim their homes and rebuild livelihoods, and to begin the process of reintegration and reconciliation. Many other Bosnian war refugees and torture survivors were granted safe havens in the U.S., where they could finally seek healing from the deep wounds of rape, torture and war.

My life has now come ‘full circle,” joining CVT as the manager of the organization’s National Capacity Building (NCB) project. In a nutshell, we provide specialized training and technical assistance to 40 programs for survivors of torture across 23 states. NCB is a collaborative partnership among CVT, the Harvard Program in Refugee Trauma and the Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture, funded by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). We work to advance torture survivor rehabilitation by promoting integrated, sustainable care for survivors across the United States. Now in its 16th year, NCB focuses on building networks of rehabilitation centers and service providers, fostering knowledge-sharing among torture treatment professionals and providing training in clinical skills development, sustainability, organizational development, and monitoring and evaluation.

Last week, Congress passed a continuing resolution containing funding for torture survivor rehabilitation. Of the $1.675 billion that went to the (ORR), $10.735 million was allocated for victims of torture. This is the same amount as the FY 16 appropriation level. The UN Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture was allocated $6.55 million. USAID was allocated $11.75 million for victims of torture. This is of course good news. NCB’s funding is secure through September 2018.

This continuing resolution is of vital importance to the continuation of work being done at CVT and the forty programs we assist in serving survivors of torture. The United States must remain a beacon of hope to individuals and families fleeing warfare, torture and other atrocities in their home countries. Had the U.S. slammed the door in my face as it is now threatening to do to many refugees – again, nearly half of them survivors of torture – I might not have had the opportunities to create change in the world, to bring my story full circle from refugee to helping refugees.

The NCB Project is funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Office of Refugee ResettlementMany of the NCB participating centers are also members of the National Consortium of Torture Treatment Programs. HealTorture.org is funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Office of Refugee Resettlement and administered by CVT.

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