Middle East - CVT Jordan | Center for Victims of Torture

Middle East - CVT Jordan

Jordan is home to hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing wars and violence in Iraq and Syria. The refugees – men, women and children – have experienced tremendous suffering, including brutal torture and other terrible human rights abuses.


Since the start of the uprising against the Syrian government in March 2011, millions of Syrians have fled to other countries. As of March 2015, more than 625,000 Syrians have registered with the United Nations refugee agency in Jordan. The UN Human Rights Council reports that the Syrian government and its militias (known as shabiha) have demonstrated “patterns of summary execution, arbitrary arrest, enforced disappearance, torture, including sexual violence, as well as violations of children’s rights.”

While the violence in Syria continues, reports of atrocities by non-state entities such as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Jabhat al-Nusra and the Free Syrian Army have become more frequent.  The abuses are widespread and include torture, public executions, amputations, lashings and indiscriminate violence.

The United Nations says the Syrian refugee crisis will double, reaching four million who have fled their country by the end of 2014. CVT Jordan staff say that many refugees arrive in poor physical health, some still bearing the wounds of torture. View this photo essay about our work in Jordan with survivors of the conflict in Syria.


Iraqis continue to suffer severe human rights violations since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. After President Saddam Hussein was overthrown, Iraq became a battleground for competing forces that the Shia-led government has not been able to stem. Insurgent groups, including disenfranchised, predominantly Sunni groups, including former army officers and supporters of the Hussein regime, ISIS, Al-Qaeda affiliated groups and others, targeted civilians and security forces through campaigns of kidnappings and killings.

According to Human Rights Watch, Iraqi security forces clamp down violently against peaceful demonstrations for better services and an end to corruption. Indefinite detention and torture continue with impunity, especially for women and minorities.

The number of Iraqi refugees registered with the United Nations refugee agency in Jordan remains stable at nearly 30,000. This number includes new arrivals, resettlement departures and some returning to Iraq. Many fear returning because of ongoing unrest, violence and threats to themselves or their families. CVT Jordan continues to receive new Iraqi clients who arrived in Jordan over the last year, including a small number of Iraqis who fled violence inside Syria.

Seeking Safety in Jordan

Iraqi and Syrian refugees in Jordan survived highly traumatic events, including witnessing death, kidnappings, bombings and rape. They experience on-going physical, mental, and emotional challenges. Relationships are strained and families are torn apart. Many have lost everything. While the Iraqi refugee population in Jordan has stabilized, Syrian refugees continue to arrive by the thousands and humanitarian efforts are struggling to provide for basic needs.

Those who survive torture and war can be left with a number of disabling conditions that interfere with basic daily functions. Symptoms can include chronic pain, musculoskeletal and nerve impairments, headaches, and incessant nightmares and other sleep disorders. Survivors can become immobilized by their feelings and symptoms, unable to function within their communities or contribute to their family’s well-being.

Our healing initiative in Amman, Jordan began in 2008 to help highly traumatized Iraqi refugees suffering from the effects of torture and war. Today, we provide care to Syrian and Iraqi refugees in Amman and have opened a second healing site in Zarqa, home to large numbers of Syrians.

Healing Care for Refugees

Torture and war affect all aspects of a person’s life and go beyond the individual to the family and the community. As part of the holistic healing approach, we provide mental health, physical therapy and social referrals and case management for Syrian and Iraqi refugees in Jordan. Our healing services are provided by professional clinical staff who are Jordanian, Palestinian and Iraqi from various ethnic backgrounds.

Psychotherapeutic services help survivors reduce very high levels of distress and improve their ability to function effectively within their families and communities. Physical therapy helps survivors decrease the pain and disability of torture, increase body awareness and self-regulation, and regain function in daily living by learning techniques to self-manage their conditions over time. Social services provided by social workers ensure refugees’ needs are being met. We also conduct home visits to support and educate family members.

Follow-up assessments are conducted at 1, 3, 6, & 12 month intervals to monitor progress. Improvement is both statistically significant and meaningful with reductions in depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress, somatic, and behavioral symptoms, and an increase in the number of supportive relationships. After receiving care from CVT, survivors consistently report increased hope, better coping skills and improved relationships.

We are also building local mental health and physical therapy resources by creating specialized trauma treatment skills in a cadre of Jordanian and Palestinian mental health and physical therapy staff. Our intensive training is focused on trauma treatment, with staff learning alongside experienced trauma psychotherapists and physical therapists.  The counselors, physical therapists and social workers provide culturally appropriate care and can continue to act as mental health, physical therapy and social services providers, advocates and educators long after our work in Jordan is completed.

CVT also provides training for the staff of other organizations, including health and social service providers, university students and others to increase their understanding of the effects of torture and war trauma and the benefits of mental health and physical therapy within a multidisciplinary approach.

Photo: Agnes Montanari


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