Seeking Asylum After Torture | The Center for Victims of Torture

Seeking Asylum After Torture

Monday, February 18, 2019

What if, at a moment’s notice, you found yourself in life-threatening danger? What if you had no choice but to flee your home? As you scramble to permanently leave your house, neighborhood, city, country, what do you take? Whom do you bring with you?

For the countless individuals fleeing war and violence in their home countries, these questions aren’t hypothetical. They’re a heartbreaking reality, one CVT clients know well. At CVT’s St. Paul Healing Center, two-thirds of our clients are asylum seekers. They are also doctors, lawyers, teachers and journalists. They are mothers and fathers, daughters and sons.

Back home, these asylum seekers were often unafraid to speak out. They were targeted for their activism, their associations or their identity. Some were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Forced to flee from imminent danger, many weren’t able to bring their loved ones with them to safety. They came to us alone, as Esme did.

Esme couldn’t talk during her therapy sessions; she could only cry. The pain of being separated from her children felt worse than memories of her torture. Because of her immigration status, Esme did not qualify for any public benefits. Most asylum seekers do not. Fortunately, once taken on as a client at CVT, Esme could access general medical assistance just by virtue of being in our care.

Esme was persecuted in her home country in the Middle East because of false accusations of political involvement. A family member helped her get to the U.S. on a visa. Like most asylum seekers, Esme struggled to find housing. CVT is not a residential facility. Survivors must often rely on relatives, acquaintances, kind strangers or shelters for a bed at night. This and the added stress of a pending asylum case can compound symptoms of trauma, especially now, when there is a mounting backlog of unprocessed asylum cases.

“In the U.S. in particular there is a major sustained crackdown  on protections for asylum seekers and an enormous delay in processing most of their claims,” states Curt Goering, CVT executive director. “CVT’s clients are facing hearings three, four — or in the case of one client I spoke with recently — five years out.”

Meanwhile, recent political rhetoric and action continues to surface new fears among CVT clients. For instance—in response to refugees fleeing violence and seeking safety at the southern border—President Trump signed a proclamation in November that makes them ineligible for asylum if they enter the United States outside an official port of entry. And yet, at the same time, Customs and Border Patrol are obstructing, and in some cases preventing entirely, asylum seekers from accessing ports of entry. Survivors are thus experiencing extreme fear and uncertainty over their unknown future in the U.S. Some ask their counselors, “Will I be sent to an internment camp? Will the police send my family and me to jail?”

In spite of these challenges, our clients persevere. At CVT, we work tirelessly to help them find hope and rehabilitation, and to bring back an America that strives to be a safe haven for people like Esme. She obtained asylum and was finally, after five years, reunited with her children. Now she arrives at CVT with a smile, a reminder of how profoundly far she’s come.

*For privacy and security reasons, some names and details have been changed.

By Sabrina Crews, marketing and communications specialist

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