Harry Shepherd recently completed a Hilton Prize Coalition Fellowship with the IRCT (The International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims). The IRCT serves as an umbrella organization for over 150 member centers that aid survivors of torture in more than 70 countries. Originally from the UK, Harry brought two years’ experience in the technology sector, working at the IRCT while completing his Master’s of Science in Global Development at The University of Copenhagen. In this post, Harry reflects on the challenges, lessons and results of working with 33 torture rehabilitation centers to build a clinical database as part of the IRCT’s Data in the Fight against Impunity (DFI) project.
Fighting Torture with Data: The Challenges and Consequences of International Collaboration
by Harry Shepherd
The IRCT’s Data in the Fight against Impunity (DIF) project involved 33 torture rehabilitation centres from 28 different countries working across many time zones. Arriving partway into this project and being tasked with assisting the design and delivery of a database technology innovation that captures clinical data on victims of torture was daunting. It soon became clear, however, that the work to leverage patients’ data more systematically so that it could be used to fight against impunity for these victims of torture, would form a strong motivating force.
IRCT member centers designed the database themselves under the auspices of the DFI project, which captures systematic data on torture cases
The methodology of the DFI project was one of continual collaboration across the Secretariat team and between the members. This was critical in yielding the IRCT member centres’ shared expertise in order to design the clinical database. The database systematically records data about the victims of torture: their characteristics; how they were tortured; the context in which they were tortured; the presenting symptoms; and recommended rehabilitation treatments.
Of course the heterogeneity of the centres regarding size, location, breadth of rehabilitation services provided, types of victims treated, and respective resource limitations meant that achieving a consensus on how this should be designed was demanding. However, it is this same diversity across the IRCT’s global membership that makes the IRCT unique. The centres remained determined to leverage their breadth of insights to strengthen the overall impact of DFI.
Regional workshops, video conferencing, the IRCT membership site, and weekly project newsletters were among the devices used to yield the – internationally located- voices of the centres. Both operational and more academic challenges were overcome through these means. Everything, from how the informed consent form ought to be uploaded to the database, to how terms such as “secondary victims (of torture)” should be understood, were discussed. This consensus enabled the team in Copenhagen to manage an external IT consultant to create a database technology that captures the various data fields needed. And then, before the database could be implemented at the member centres, it required translation into the five languages used by the corresponding members. A number of upgrades were completed to evolve the database into a slick, useful, and secure tool based on centres’ feedback.
Staff from IRCT centers based in Sub-Saharan Africa discuss the database at a regional workshop held in Nairobi
I feel privileged to have helped coordinate this. Now that the project is over, at least under its current project cycle, I have learnt that close communication with centres and the development of a strong sense of community among them is the key to a successful project like DFI. This can of course be a significant challenge when working across countries, let alone continents; however, the use of technology platforms, underpinned by a strong culture of open dialogue, can enhance a project’s success.
As with all projects of this scale, trial and error allows the organisation to understand what works well and what does not. Compromises were, of course, made at times as local needs differ, project deadlines continually loom, and resources remain finite. Overall I feel extremely proud to be a part of a strategy that has enabled 33 centres to agree the contents, scope and design of a clinical database that is now being used to improve centres’ operational efficiency and human rights outputs. Thanks to this project, IRCT’s mission to ensure more patients can be seen, to support advocacy initiatives, and to contribute to the global fight against torture and the rehabilitation of victims is being realised.
I would like to say a massive thank you for the Hilton Prize Coalition for awarding me the Fellowship and allowing me to take up this opportunity at the IRCT.
(Photos courtesy of the author)
On Tuesday, September 19, 2017 a 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck central Mexico, killing more than 220 people to date. At least 11 Hilton Prize Laureates operate in the surrounding region. Through protocols established under the Hilton Prize Coalition Disaster Relief and Resiliency Program, the Coalition is facilitating communications between these organizations to share information that might help to support collective relief efforts. Responses may include resource-sharing among Coalition members in the countries or regions affected to assist with recovery.
Laureates responding in the region include Casa Alianza/Covenant House, ECPAT, Heifer International, IRCT, Landesa, MSF/Doctors Without Borders, Operation Smile, Partners In Health, PATH, SOS Children’s Villages, and The Task Force for Global Health.
Collaboration between the affected organizations is supported by the Coalition’s Clearinghouse, a central repository of information about each respective Laureate organization and its operational capacities. The Clearinghouse function was developed to increase the organization’s knowledge of each other’s activities that would promote their ability to work in concert with one another.
Updates on the response efforts underway by Coalition members are being collected and shared on the Coalition’s Twitter feed.
(AP Photo: People walk through a neighborhood in Jojutla, Mexico, where many buildings collapsed the day before.)
In this second post of a series, Hilton Prize Coalition Storytelling Program Director Steve Connors provides context on the plight of Syrian refugees at the European border, setting the stage for the Coalition’s next Storytelling project, a series of vignettes featuring the work of SOS Children’s Villages, the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT), HelpAge International and Handicap International. (Photo is from one of the short films.)
Stranded In Transit
by Steve Connors
“We are at present largely no longer enforcing #Dublin procedures for Syrian citizens.”
This innocuous statement, tweeted out in the middle of an August night by Germany’s Office for Migration and Refugees, signaled an open border policy for Syrian refugees and helped set Europe on the path to a political upheaval unprecedented in the history of the European Union. Two years later, tens of thousands of displaced people remain stranded on the EU borders, unable to go forward and desperate not to go back.
Overwhelmed by refugees from the Syrian and Iraq wars, the Lebanese and Jordanian governments had recently closed their own borders. People fleeing the ongoing violence in their homeland began to head north and west in search of safety. First they arrived in Turkey, which was already sheltering close to three million Syrians. With news of the German government’s relaxation of its border policies, hundreds of thousands then made their way toward Europe – either by sea to Greece or through Bulgaria by land. None of the countries involved were in any way prepared for this mass influx of despairing humanity. None of the countries involved had the capacity – whether infrastructural or economic – to cope with the sheer volume of traffic that approached them.
They weren’t only Syrians. Thanks to the ubiquity of mobile communication, others already displaced by violence, politics or economics saw an unmissable opportunity. Afghans, Iraqis, Libyans, Iranians, sub-Saharan Africans and even a few Cubans, reset their course and headed for Europe’s borders.
Almost all those on the move had Europe as their desired destination, and all the countries along the way were thought of – not only by the refugees but also by the host governments – as transit points along the way. The last of these transit countries has been Serbia.
In the summer of 2015 Serbia had barely recovered from the worst floods ever recorded, and now faced a flood of another kind. The first responders to the crisis were the Serbian people themselves. Being no strangers to the plight of refugees during the wars of secession that carved up the former state of Yugoslavia, people saw the desperate condition of the people arriving on their doorstep and volunteered in the thousands, loading up their cars with food and water and delivering it along the routes being traveled by the refugees. Meanwhile, the Serbian government quietly worked in the background to renovate abandoned motels, barracks, and government buildings to create habitable transit camps where refugees could be registered, and much needed services could be delivered to those on the move.
Initially, with border controls being barely recognized, people passed through quickly and easily. The non-Syrians, if they had arrived in the early weeks, were also able to pass through in the chaos, but as time went by and the Syrian wave slowed down, border controls were soon reinstated, and the transit camps began to take on a permanence for which they were not intended.
Bordered on three sides by EU countries – Bulgaria to the east, Hungary to the north, and Croatia to the west, Serbia had become a cul-de-sac. The welcome that had been extended to the Syrians was now seen to have been fulfilled, and the countries forming the European Union’s south-eastern border had become a bulwark against further passage. At these borders, refugees face hostility, and even brutality.
Still they come: Fatima (right) and her sister-in-law, Amina, newly arrived at a makeshift refugee camp in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. With the official border crossings closed to Syrian refugees, the women, along with Zeinab’s husband and sons, traveled for three days across rough mountain tracks to reach safety. Amina, who was born with a club foot, was carried across the mountains by her brother and nephews.
Among the thousands still in the Serbian transit camps, perhaps the least fortunate are the Afghans. Refused refugee status because Afghanistan is deemed by the international community to be a safe country in which to live, they are stranded in Serbia waiting for their names to reach the top of a list of people allowed to cross into Europe. But even when that day arrives, most will likely be refused asylum and sent back across the border.
The sense of crisis may be fading from world headlines, but with thousands of adults and children desperately yearning for safety and an end to their journey, the mantle of responsibility for their care will continue to fall on the shoulders of international NGOs. Among those still committed to providing that care in Europe and the Middle East are the stalwart staff of the Hilton Prize Laureates.
Beginning in early October, the HPC Storytelling Program will be rolling out four short videos featuring the work of HPC Laureates in Lebanon and Serbia. The first of these vignettes will follow the experiences of Handicap International as they’ve innovated and adapted to meet the needs of Syrian refugees in the Bekaa Valley and Tripoli. The second will focus on HelpAge International’s work with Lebanese partner organizations in Beirut, while the third will provide a glimpse into the daily work of IRCT member The Restart Center, which has been providing psychotherapy to patients living with trauma. The series concludes in Serbia, where teams from SOS Children’s Villages continue to provide for the needs of families as they transit through the country, seeking safety in Europe.
This article by Peter Laugharn, President and CEO of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, offers a perspective on the current migration crisis, with reference to Syrian refugees and those displaced by impacts of climate change. A shorter version of the article was published in the San Francisco Chronicle.
Many Prize Coalition members are working to face this crisis, including the International Rescue Committee (IRC), who is mentioned in the article. Four other Coalition member organizations currently working in Lebanon and Serbia will be featured in the next Hilton Prize Coalition Storytelling Program project: Handicap International, HelpAge International, the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT) and SOS Children’s Villages.
Mobilizing for a Century of Dislocation
By Peter Laugharn
Nearly 35,000 people flee war or persecution each day. These brave men, women, and children join a record 65 million others — nearly 1 percent of the globe’s population — who can’t return home. Not even World War II uprooted as many people.
Migration will only worsen in the years ahead. Political and economic disorder continue to reign supreme across much of the world — and climate change will soon make life untenable in many communities.
Humanitarian organizations, donors, host countries, and their citizens can mitigate the suffering caused by the coming century of dislocation — but only by cooperating on sustainable development initiatives.
The Syrian civil war is the world’s most urgent humanitarian crisis. Already, 13.5 million Syrians — more than half the pre-war population — have fled their homes. And the flow of migrants shows no signs of abating.
In our lifetimes, rising sea levels and desertification will force tens of millions to leave their homelands. Widespread flooding, and the resulting economic strain, could displace 15 million people in Bangladesh alone by 2050.
The humanitarian community must better prepare for these unprecedented refugee flows. Its aid distribution system dates to the post-WWII era. Then, most refugees needed donations of food and clothing as they waited out conflicts in camps.
Nowadays, three in four refugees live outside a camp. Nearly nine in ten reside in low- and middle-income nations, often those bordering their home countries. Lebanon, for instance, has taken in 1.5 million Syrians, who now make up a quarter of the tiny Mediterranean nation’s population.
Host governments frequently view these arrivals with suspicion, worrying that they’ll destabilize fragile political systems and take jobs from citizens. So they box refugees out of the labor market and make them dependent on charity or black-market work. Those fleeing the hell of war and disaster find themselves in purgatory — unable to return home but barred from building new lives.
Unfortunately, the current administration is limiting the number of refugees being resettled in the United States and is proposing cuts to our foreign aid budget at a time when we need it most. Instead, our government is turning to other sources of funding, like philanthropy, to fill the gaps.
That’s not sustainable. It’s time for new approaches.
Consider Oxford’s Alexander Betts, who heads up the university’s Refugee Studies Centre. He urges host countries to allow refugees to work, pointing to Uganda as a model. Over 20 percent of refugees in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, “own a business that employs other people, and 40 percent of those employees are nationals of the host country.”
Host nations have a choice. They can either let refugees burden the economy — or contribute to it.
If refugees join the labor force, they’ll inevitably disperse into cities and towns. It’s logistically difficult for aid organizations to deliver food or clothing to these dispersed populations. That’s why David Miliband, president of the International Rescue Committee — which my organization previously honored with the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize — urges donors to simply give refugees cash.
Cash — which currently accounts for just 6 percent of all humanitarian aid — empowers refugees to buy exactly what they need. IRC studied 90,000 Syrian refugee families in Lebanon who received pre-loaded ATM cards. Families overwhelmingly spent the money on food, water, winter clothing, and shelter. And cash keeps kids in school — “households receiving cash assistance were half as likely to send their children out to work,” according to IRC.
Cash and work permits help refugees contribute to the economy and become partly self-sustaining.
But refugees can’t reach their full potential without an education. Two-thirds of refugee children aren’t in school. Yet less than 2 percent of humanitarian aid was devoted to education in 2016. My organization is working with international nongovernmental organizations, including Save the Children and Theirworld, to demonstrate how education initiatives for the most vulnerable young people are a smart investment for future peace and sustainability. Together, we’re supporting education programs for the children of Syrian refugees close to the epicenter of the crisis.
A long-term vision has been articulated in the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, with its 17 Global Goals and 169 targets for improving lives around the world. By collecting and tracking more data on different aid projects, donors could better identify best practices — and make funding contingent on host nations adopting those practices. Donors could also preemptively identify areas where environmental migrants will likely flee — and work with local governments to make sure they’re able to handle large migration inflows.
Regular Americans can encourage this shift by making financial donations to organizations that implement modern approaches to humanitarian aid. They can also volunteer locally to support refugees who are beginning their new lives in the United States.
Conflict, a lack of economic opportunity, and climate change will make this a century of dislocation. By quickly adopting new approaches, aid agencies, donors, and host nations — including the United States — can turn the challenges of mass migration into opportunities.
(Photo by Jodi Hilton/IRC)
Reprinted with permission of The Hilton Foundation
June 20th marks World Refugee Day as recognized by the United Nations. This year the world has reached unprecedented numbers of people fleeing their homes for fear of persecution or violence. On this day, the international community honors and recognizes the profound struggle of those who have no choice but to abandon their homes and face a future of impermanence and instability. As the refugee crisis persists, many agencies fight to advocate for and provide humanitarian assistance to the voiceless.
Hilton Prize Coalition members are at the forefront of response to the refugee crisis, providing leadership in their practices and partnerships. The Hilton Prize Coalition’s next Storytelling project will shine a spotlight on some the powerful and collaborative work being done by Coalition members in their efforts to aid refugees in the Middle East. Storytelling Program Director, Steve Connors, is spending the month of June traveling throughout Lebanon and Serbia to connect with Coalition members as they work with refugees in the region. The project will feature SOS Children’s Villages, the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT), Handicap International, and HelpAge International. Read more about the Storytelling project in this blog post.
According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, “What is at stake is nothing less than the survival and well-being of a generation of innocents.” In honor of World Refugee Day, below are some more highlights of work being done by Coalition member organizations to respond to the crisis.
Women for Women International (WfWI)
The winner of the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize in 2006, WfWI leads the world in empowering marginalized women in regions plagued by humanitarian emergencies. They harness the skills of women and provide them with the necessary resources to support themselves and their families, promoting community development.
In the context of the refugee crisis, WfWI offers invaluable resources to women and their families around the world. Programs include mental health counseling to women who have suffered the trauma of being forced to leave their homes and who often take on the leadership role for their families. WfWI also has a strategic partnership with Bloomberg Philanthropies in countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda, which have been long been affected by displacement. Programs under this partnership combine their areas of expertise to teach women useful skills that help create economic opportunities for them as they search for stability in an unfamiliar place.
The International Rescue Committee (IRC)
The IRC received the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize in 1997, and has been a global leader in response to humanitarian crises for 83 years. In regions all over the world, the IRC provides best-in-class aid, promoting safety, health care, education and economic development for people affected by disasters and conflicts.
One recent initiative illustrates the power of collaboration and technology in the response to the refugee crisis. The IRC has recently partnered with Air BnB, the popular home rental service, in the creation of their “Open Homes” platform. This philanthropic endeavor will allow the IRC to connect refugees with Air BnB volunteers around the world who are willing to temporarily open their homes to refugees—for free. Temporary housing will then give the IRC time to resettle the refugees in a more permanent home.
Stay tuned for more stories about Coalition members as they continue to lead efforts to alleviate the suffering of refugee populations around the world.
Photo: Syrian women from a refugee camp in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley plant seeds in a local farmer’s field. (Steve Connors)
In this post by youth psychologist Gabriela Monroy, readers are offered a glimpse inside one of the projects currently being implemented under the Hilton Prize Coalition’s Collaborative Models Program. Coalition members Covenant House International and the IRCT (the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims) are working together to develop a comprehensive set of materials on issues related to trauma informed care. These materials will be used for training and as reference for healthcare workers and specialists to better understand the effects of trauma and how to approach traumatized youth.
Reflections on Working with Survivors of Violence and Torture
by Gabriela Monroy
I am a psychologist at La Alianza, Covenant House International’s (CHI) safe house for trafficked and sexually exploited girls in Guatemala. I am also the CHI regional coordinator in Latin America for the Hilton Prize Coalition’s Collaborative Models Program on trauma-informed care, which is being carried out by the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT) and CHI. I was invited to attend the 10th International Scientific Symposium organized by the IRCT in December 2016 in Mexico City. When I received the invitation, I very much looked forward to the opportunity to learn from survivors of torture and those who work to support them. I knew I had much to learn and much to share. After three days of listening to the presentations and experiences from different countries, I began to realize that in many countries across the globe like mine, “normal” is similar to a war zone where death, torture, rape, abuse and abandonment of children is the norm and life is a continuum of traumatic events. The exception is a moment of human and humane interaction–which is what we strive to accomplish at La Alianza.
At La Alianza, young girls who are survivors of human trafficking and sexual exploitation find an environment that offers them the opportunity to finally be treated as human beings, in a dignified, respectful and non-violent way. For some of them, the violence in their lives has been so overwhelming that it can feel traumatic to be treated in such a humane fashion. Using a trauma informed care lens in my day-to-day work as a youth psychologist, I see, after some time of working with them, that the impact on their lives is visible. Society seems so surprised at the transformation that care, affection, and dignified treatment can produce. It is ironic because acting in a humane way should be the most common thing we do as humans, yet it still surprises us even more than the violence itself.
Every single presentation at the Symposium presented the testimonies and experiences of survivors on this continuum of violence and torture as examples of integrity and dignity. This simple reflection on my experience of this symposium hopefully will be a recognition and a homage to their courage and an expression of my respect for each one’s journey and all they have gone through.
When we work with persons who have been tortured or victims of violence without seriously questioning and denouncing the existence of this continuum of violence, we run the risk that our support can become yet another act of violence, even without intending so. And because of this, as professionals and as members of humanitarian organizations, it is necessary to develop an internal alarm system sensitive to this reality.
Also, we need to realize that best practices for dealing with survivors of torture and violence need to be based in respect for their day-to-day experience and respect for the ways they have survived, and if we can recognize this then we may be able to transform the norm that violence has become into the exception. This is my hope. I am grateful to the Hilton Prize Coalition for giving me the opportunity to be a witness to such courage.
(Gabriela Monroy, right, with one of her patients at La Alianza in Guatemala)