The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

December 9, 2013

Helping immigrant victims of torture heal


As primary care physicians, he said, doctors had been treating patients with chronic pain and other illnesses for years, even decades, without making the connection to the torture they may have endured.

Under the program, “There’s now a whole new level of record-keeping and awareness with how torture interacts with different diseases,” Jackson said.

“A lot of torture could have a medical component, and if you don’t keep that in mind, you could end up retraumatizing people by sending them into a setting where that experience is reawakened in them,” Jackson said.

Through the grant, the organizations are serving more people who lack health insurance or the ability to pay an immigration attorney to work on their asylum cases. They’ve hired and trained staff to work specifically with torture victims and are doing outreach to physicians and counselors at other organizations across the region and the state.

“People have lives outside their legal cases,” said Maggie Cheng, staff attorney with NWIRP.

What’s more, the medical evaluations — as well as the mental evaluations that are sometimes necessary for victims with no scars — are crucial in helping to prove an asylum applicant’s claims of torture in immigration court.

Rabaa, the Iraqi, said he had joined the police force in Baghdad in the 1980s and worked his way up in rank to senior officer. By the time of the invasion in 2003, he was answering to U.S. military personnel.

He said he cooperated with the Americans, and those relationships not only ostracized him but also made him a target of religious extremists flooding into Iraq from neighboring countries to fight the occupation.

One day in 2004, he said, he was jumped by a group of men and taken to a place where other professionals, all religious minorities, were also being held.

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