CVT Ethiopia | Center for Victims of Torture

CVT Ethiopia

Eritrean Refugees in Ethiopia

Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993, but since then has been ruled by an authoritarian regime that exerts strict control over all aspects of life. According to human rights reports, the Eritrean government is responsible for systematic human rights abuses, including arbitrary arrest and detention, torture, forced labor, severe restrictions on freedom of movement and expression, and persistent religious persecution.

Many Eritrean refugees are young men fleeing forced and indefinite conscription into the Eritrean military. As the government also targets the families of young men who flee to avoid military service, more women and children also are forced to leave.  Eritrean refugees are faced with horrifying experiences. They are routinely raped or held hostage. Many survived multiple persecutions, at the hands of the government as a result of a family member fleeing the country, then, forced themselves to flee, being accosted on the long and dangerous journey to the Ethiopian border.

Eritrean refugees that are returned face indefinite detention and torture. But those who flee also risk a perilous journey that includes risk of torture, capture, imprisonment and death. Human traffickers exploit the situation, profiting from Eritreans paying to be smuggled across the border.

CVT Tigray

The camps where CVT works in the northern part of Ethiopia not far from the Eritrean border and include Mai-Ayni (2008) and Adi Harush (2010).

Most basic services are provided in the camps, including food, shelter, basic medical care and water and sanitation. But there are virtually no mental health services. CVT will help fill that gap by providing direct mental health care to refugees in the Mai-Ayni and Adi Harush camps and provide training to psychiatric professionals in all three camps to improve their ability to care for traumatized refugees.

Torture and other violent forms of trauma can lead a number of 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.

CVT models its delivery of care on other international healing initiatives. This includes an emphasis on high quality mental health care for survivors of torture and war trauma. It also includes training refugee and national staff to develop mental health resources that will benefit the community for the long term. CVT:

  • Provides 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;
  • Hires, trains and supervises refugees from Mai-Aini and Adi Harush to work as  psychosocial  counselors  and masters-level psychologists to work as clinical supervisors;
  • Trains local psychiatric professionals and mental health counselors on providing appropriate and effective psychiatric care to refugees in all three camps;
  • Engages and trains 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 began providing group counseling to men and women survivors in February 2013. 

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

CVT's Work in Gambella

To meet tremendous need for mental health care among South Sudanese refugee torture survivors, the Center for Victims of Torture is now extending rehabilitative care in the Nguenyyiel refugee camp in the Gambella region of Ethiopia, informed by our January 2019 needs assessment focused on mental health.

Although organizations already on the ground in Gambella offer limited mental health programs, CVT is filling a void in the region by directly addressing mental health needs among South Sudanese refugee survivors of torture, rape and other war trauma. CVT’s approach includes specialized trauma-focused mental health counseling for survivors and training for the refugee community, refugee staff and national staff. 


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