Imagine what it would be like if you were forced to leave the UK and live  in a totally foreign country forever where the language, the food, the customs, and society is nothing like you have experienced before.  It would be disorientating and bewildering. Now imagine doing so after being traumatised by torture in your own home country and then undertaking a dangerous flight to safety. We have all seen the photos of refugees fleeing and dying as they cross the Mediterranean and have found it deeply upsetting.  How shocking and distressing would it be to experience these multiple traumas? These are the truly harrowing experiences of torture survivors claiming asylum in the UK.

Freedom from Torture is an incredible organisation that provides holistic support, therapy and protection for such torture survivors. I am a retired Northamptonshire GP and have supported the organisation in various ways since its inception in 1985. Over the last 8 years I have volunteered as a doctor assessing clients with health problems and helping them to access healthcare through the NHS.

When torture survivors are referred to us, they are broken traumatised individuals who are struggling to get through each day. Many are intelligent professionals and may have been politically active, standing up for injustice and human rights abuses. Over time, Freedom from Torture can and does help torture survivors to transform their lives. They need help with processing and coming to terms with the brutal effects torture has had on them. But they also need help with their asylum claims, their housing situations, the benefits they receive, and how to navigate complex UK bureaucracy which is usually different to systems in their home country. This is exactly what Freedom from Torture provides.

The organisation has a bigger vision, however, of a world free of torture. The experience and evidence gathered over the last 31 years is used to influence international and UK government policy and procedures relating to torture survivors and Freedom from Torture’s specific robust research is used to hold states responsible for torture to account.

Over many years I have had the privilege of welcoming torture survivors into my home for brief holiday respites from their often prolonged struggle for safety. They have come from many countries but all have similarly appalling stories of torture, fear and suffering. I have learned that, across the cultures, torture survivors are human beings just like us, who love their families, want to be safe and need to have purpose and friendships in order to thrive.  All our visitors went on, in time, to become useful and valuable members of society in the UK. Whether we like it or not we are connected to torture survivors by our common humanity. It is a distressing issue to engage with but I urge you not to turn away. Find out more about the fantastic work Freedom from Torture does to enable such traumatised individuals to establish a new and secure life in the UK. Despite the dreadful accounts of suffering you will find determination, resilience and hope and perhaps some little way that you too could contribute to the needs of torture survivors.

Freedom from Torture
Freedom from Torture, London, June 2015