Survivors of Torture Enduring Detention

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The following is a post written by AnneRose Menachery, Legal Intern for Access to Justice at LIRS

On Monday, June 20th, Torture Abolition and Survivor Support Coalition (TASSC) with LIRS hosted an all-day panel about the journey of torture survivors, beginning with travel to the United States and time in immigration detention to the legal process for immigration cases and reuniting with family.  TASSC’s mission is to abolish torture around the world and to empower survivors of torture by providing a safe place where they can begin to heal and gain support during the transition to life in the U.S.  Monday’s event was just day one of TASSC’s weeklong Human Rights Training and Survivor Week.

The format for Monday’s panel was unique because it brought torture survivors and their advocates together in one room to discuss the many aspects of a survivor’s journey.  The trainings I have attended typically involve only advocates meeting to discuss best practices in working with their clients.  Here was the opportunity to have that same discussion but gain feedback and perspective from the clients that we as advocates are serving.

The survivors bravely disclosed their own stories—some spoke of the danger fleeing their persecutors to then make the arduous journey from Africa to Latin America in order to reach the U.S.; others expressed the astonishment and disappointment of being greeted not with welcome as asylum-seekers upon arriving here but being detained instead.  From the advocates from different NGOs, some explained the intricate legal process for immigration cases while others discussed the deeper impact that the complexity of this process has on a survivor of torture.

One theme echoed throughout the day was the desire to belong.  A survivor of torture, an asylum-seeker, a refugee—not one of these labels signifies that a migrant has turned their back on their home country, many still love and yearn to return to their home.  Unfortunately, faced with the decision of putting their own lives and even the lives of their family in danger, migrants flee their homes and seek refuge in a safe place where they can begin to rebuild their lives.  However, the law requires that an immigrant who arrives in the U.S. and immediately requests asylum be detained.   It sounds like a harsh and inhumane law when I’m reading the text of the Immigration and Nationality act, but then it was personified.  One survivor explained how he was handcuffed and chained at his waist and feet as he was escorted to and from his court hearings.  Why was this necessary for a man who posed no threat, who had just endured cruelty, who was vulnerable?  He had the courage to ask why and was simply told that’s the law.  It’s hard to believe that the law of the United States is to detain our most vulnerable immigrants; not to welcome them, not to assuage their fears, not to make them feel safe.

So how do we reconcile the image of the U.S. as a refuge that promises hope when a survivor of torture is treated as a criminal upon arriving here and requesting asylum?  LIRS’ works to transform our country’s standard of welcome and receive survivors of torture with open arms.  An important step in this welcoming process is collaboration with other advocates and survivors to build upon each other’s experience and knowledge, and then work together to improve the system and our response to the needs of survivors of torture.

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