Taking Stock and Looking Forward: Reflections on the PATH Project and Syrian Refugee Crisis | The Center for Victims of Torture

Taking Stock and Looking Forward: Reflections on the PATH Project and Syrian Refugee Crisis

Suzanne Jabbour
Wednesday, February 17, 2016

On December 10, International Human Rights Day, CVT and the LMG Project at MSH co-hosted an event in Washington, D.C. The event, “Taking Stock and Looking Forward,” marked the culmination of the five-year Partners in Trauma Healing (PATH) project and the beginning of the follow-on three-year PATH Project. The day provided an opportunity to reflect on accomplishments of the PATH project and discuss how the partners can and will continue to expand their work.

Suzanne Jabbour, executive director of PATH partner Restart Center in Tripoli, Lebanon, gave the keynote address at the event to offer the perspective of the PATH partners. Ms. Jabbour is also Vice-President of the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and President of the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT), providing a unique viewpoint on the Syrian refugee crisis and the ongoing development of the torture rehabilitation movement. Below are her comments at the event.


Distinguished guests, dear colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,

It is a pleasure and a privilege to be here, and I would like to express my gratitude to CVT for hosting this event and for having me in Washington today. Thank you.

The organization that I lead is a field partner of the UNHCR within the Regional Response Plan (RRP) implemented to assist Syrian and non-Syrian refugees. Through a comprehensive rehabilitation program, which includes psychosocial support as well as a child protection component, the experts targeted 976 new beneficiaries during this year. However, while Restart is the only actor providing specialized mental health services to the refugees in Lebanon, the overwhelming needs are dramatically increasing on a monthly basis.

As Executive Director of Restart Center, I am representing the work and the efforts of a team of professionals cooperating with CVT under the umbrella of the PATH (Partners in Trauma Healing) project, aiming at strengthening the capacity of all concerned actors in addressing the needs of victims of violence, torture and ill-treatments.

The capacity-building plan developed under the clinical component, focusing on mental health treatment and healing, helped to improve a dedicated unit for the provision of more effective services. The new approach to apply group therapy, at both a centralized and community level is essential to addressing a higher number of people. Moreover, the presence of a secure environment equipped with specialized staff for adults and children allows a prompt referral of sensitive cases to the service provider.

As an international expert and a Lebanese citizen, I have a privileged view to analyze the effects of the Syrian crises: the big challenge of our century. The war in Syria is a shared responsibility, not only because of the huge dimension of the dramatic event in terms of number of victims, refugees and internally displaced persons, but mostly for the consequences that this crisis brings to our daily lives. We are not allowed to look at Syria as a reality, which silently collapsed on the other side of the ocean. Instead, it loudly breaks into our societies. From the daily news to our neighborhoods.

Five years of conflict destroyed the Syrian society in all aspects, including the socioeconomic level. Internally displaced persons and refugees struggle with all their losses: the death of relatives, friends, the damage of their properties, the lack of a job, as well as the destruction of their home and lifetime savings. The dramatic situation and the incessant fears from traumatic events rob people of their sense of control, connection and meaning in life. All these events violate the victim’s faith in humanity. When the perpetrators are neighbors and former friends, faith in humanity is challenged to the core. And in order to rebuild a sense of justice, it is essential to advocate and work for reconciliation.

For these reasons, the healing process has a multidimensional nature: it takes a long time and it should be achieved through tailored rehabilitation programs for the different clients. Following-up with them and learning how to manage the individual needs is important to evaluate progress and apply end-of-treatment measures.

From Syria to Lebanon, from the Middle East to North Africa, from Europe to America, the extreme brutality of the war is affecting all of us. The answer cannot be to secure a border or to strengthen controls at the main airports. The answer is -- for each and every one of us -- to cooperate for a deeper understanding of the overwhelming needs, to look closer at people in pain and to commit together in supporting them.

While needs of re-construction in Syria are huge, human rights protection is the only path towards a democratic process. On the occasion of the UN Human Rights Day, it is always easy to mainstream how important human rights are and how urgent is the need to empower the teams working on the promotion and on the protection of these rights. But what do we mean when we say “human rights?” Is it a UN definition of a visionary world? A never-ending hazy objective? Or do we mean the rights of others? The rights of the suffering people, today? Do we mean that we cannot accept the consequences of a war without taking an action? And if we look at the daily life of the victims, what do we exactly mean? If we ask them, what do we think that they expect from us?

One Syrian man, a beneficiary of the Restart Center, said, “I used to be a strong man, healthy. I served my country within my profession for more than 20 years. I was strong, and solid. I could do so much. I could take care of my parents, my children and my wife. I was a man. Now look at me, I am nothing. I have nothing, not my family, a home. I cannot work. I have no life. I am explosive, broken, empty. Nothing. Sometimes I eat, I sit, wait…for what, I don’t know. There is nothing to do but stare at the ceiling the whole day, thinking, thinking, too scared and worried to sleep. I have no life; this is a life worse than an animal’s, not the life of a man. I am nothing, not even a human being. I am free but I live in a prison without bars, without walls – in my mind, I am imprisoned. What are human rights when I am nothing? What are my human rights if I am not even human?”

Human rights are not only a slogan that anyone can share in a mood of brotherhood as a positive sensitive feeling, or a mission to adopt as an advocacy organization, but a way of life. And I strongly encourage myself and all of you to believe in human rights as a way of life.

Through the PATH project and other on-going programs implemented in the field, organizations like Restart work as aid providers and as partnering agents to bring an effective answer on a daily basis and to create the conditions for a joint support to torture victims, on the national, regional, as well as global dimension. Bringing the evidence of the needs is also part of our scope of work, informing and networking, sharing best practices and referring. Such are all interrelated aspects that we are called to bring to the attention of partners, governments, institutions, international donors and foundations. It is important to make services available, and crucial to include mental health services and trauma healing as a priority that goes beyond the single ad-hoc intervention, and that it is structured into well-endorsed strategies for action among civil society-led institutions and concerned state actors.

During 2015, Restart has worked to support 1,744 victims of torture and trauma, as well as refugees with mental disorders. That is a large number and yet only a small part of the persons in need of our services. Right to rehabilitation is a fundamental step to rebuild societies. It is only through guaranteeing such a right that we can contribute to the process of healing within a post-conflict reconstruction and a peace-building exercise; hence, mental health and psychosocial assistance are essential in all humanitarian initiatives that aim to restore the victims. The theme of this event is “Taking Stock and Looking Forward.” This is the correct approach that “helping professions” should adopt in implementing cross-cultural understanding, to use academic best practices in humanitarian assistance and global mental health.

Human-generated disasters, and the mental-health consequences on the people affected, are going to be part of our working framework as a growing emergency. This calls for timely and efficient responses. We are all here with our share of responsibility and also with our share of capacity. I am sure that being willing and available to perform better is the interest of all of us.

Yesterday was the lesson and today is the right day to “look forward.” Let’s work well! Thank you.


USAID logoPartners in Trauma Healing is made possible through the financial support of the United States Agency for International Development and the American peoples’ support.


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