Asylum seekers and refugees leave their countries because they have no choice. CVT’s clients – and survivors who receive rehabilitative care at other torture rehabilitation programs – whether they are refugees or asylum-seekers, have survived torture, persecution and/or war atrocities in locations around the world. They speak of what it was like to make the excruciating decision to flee from home, like the Hadad family and Jon, who knew they would be killed if they remained in their war-torn countries. Others experienced the murder or disappearance of a close family member at the hands of government perpetrators, or were persecuted by private individuals operating with impunity in countries where police or the courts could not or would not prevent or punish those responsible. Still others were targeted because of their profession, such as journalists like Youssef, or medical professionals like Manal. Some, like Rosa*, had been kidnapped amid violent attacks by outlaw groups or militias and held in captivity—they fled from their abductors, having no home to return to. According to CVT clinicians in St. Paul, Maria fled Central America because her family was forced to pay a war tax to a local gang. Since her family could not afford to do so, the gang repeatedly beat her husband and eventually threatened to take her oldest son. The family fled to avoid losing their son to the gang.
Startling numbers of asylum seekers and refugees are survivors of torture. Per CVT’s own research study, as many as 44 percent of refugees living in the U.S. are survivors. Other studies indicate a similar torture prevalence rate among forced migrants in high income countries. From over 30 years working closely with torture survivors, CVT understands the dire conditions that cause people to run from their homes, their loved ones, their professions and their communities. Many clients tell us that as agonizing as that decision was, the will to live – and to protect any loved ones they could – prevailed.
Clients carry with them the trauma from all they survived before fleeing. Regardless of the country responsible for the torture, the effects of torture are similar, chronic and predictable:
Long-term physical effects include the scars and musculoskeletal pains that result from beatings, being bound or confined to cages, as well as from being hung or suspended. Feet are a common target for torturers, resulting in pain from beatings on the soles, and injuries and abuse to the head result in hearing loss, dental pain and visual problems. Torture wreaks havoc across the body, resulting in chronic abdominal pains, cardiovascular/respiratory problems, sexual difficulties and neurological damage.
Long-term psychological effects include intense and incessant nightmares or insomnia, severe anxiety, and difficulty concentrating for even short amounts of time. Suicidal ideation is not uncommon. Many survivors meet the full criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder and major depressive disorder.
Without rehabilitative care, these symptoms remain a difficult, painful, and often-debilitating part of survivors’ lives.
*Names and some details have been changed for security and confidentiality.