8-9-2011By Peggy Ramin
General Programs Intern
As a General Programs intern at Human Rights First’s Washington, DC office, I am lucky enough to have many opportunities to attend hearings, seminars, and events on behalf of staff members who are pulled elsewhere by various obligations.
On June 20, 2011, I attended a day-long program hosted by Torture Abolition and Survivor Support Coalition International (TASSC) and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS). The program, Survivor Journeys: Immigration, Detention, Asylum and Family Reunification, was part of the annual TASSC June Survivor Week, a forum in which survivors of torture from across the U.S. and around the world are able to come together to share their stories and participate in activities to end torture. As a new summer intern, I hoped hearing torture survivors speak about their experiences would provide me with insight into the personal struggles of asylum clients Human Rights First represents.
Perhaps the aspect of the day that impressed me the most was hearing torture survivors share their personal, and often painful, stories in a completely honest and uninhibited manner. I can only imagine how much courage it takes to share these experiences with a room full of strangers. The survivors spoke of the persecution they had attempted to escape by coming to the United States, where they then languish in detention facilities while their mental and physical health deteriorated.
In addition to listening to torture survivors from Cameroon, Yemen, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Equatorial Guinea, I learned from specialist organizations such as Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS), Physicians for Human Rights, UNHCR, and Human Rights First (including HRF’s very own Annie Sovcik!). The panelists made important points regarding the contradictory nature of our current immigration system and its implications for torture survivors.
As Americans, we owe a great deal of respect to asylum seekers and refugees who have left their families, homes, and loved ones behind in order to seek protection in the United States. Unfortunately, this respect has not been afforded to all survivors of torture and that is disheartening. Having already suffered extensively in their home nations, these men and women are often forced to face poor treatment, hardship, and confusion as they navigate through U.S. immigration courts and languish in detention facilities that look far too similar to prisons. It’s a process that seems unnecessary.
Rather than exacerbate asylum seekers’ pain through indefinite sentencing, lack of adequate health services, and immigration laws designed to work against them, the United States should be doing everything in its power to protect these people from encountering any further adversity. Listening to the stories of the torture survivors renewed my admiration for the people that come to us for assistance, and I was encouraged to know that members of the Refugee Protection Program at HRF are working to make the American experience inclusive rather than hostile for their clients.