Establishing a Refugee Torture Survivor Center in Upstate New YorkThe greater Buffalo area is the largest center of resettled refugees and asylum seekers in New York State and is among the largest in the nation. Many refugees also are survivors of torture.
Jewish Family Services of Buffalo and Erie County
Special Projects Fund
July 2013 – October 2015
The greater Buffalo area is the largest center of resettled refugees and asylum seekers in New York State and is among the largest in the nation. Many refugees also are survivors of torture.
The physical and mental effects of torture may require lifelong treatment, surgery, and recovery, and torture survivors require specialized care. Buffalo is home to an estimated 15,000 refugee torture survivors, yet no torture survivor services are offered anywhere in upstate New York. NYHealth awarded Jewish Family Service of Buffalo and Erie County (JFS) a grant to create the Western New York Center for Survivors of Torture, the first of its kind in upstate New York.
Under this grant, the Center created an interdisciplinary treatment program to address the complex medical, psychological, immigration, legal, and social service needs of torture survivors in Western New York. JFS received training, technical assistance, and evaluation services from international leaders in torture survivor treatment. The Center now provides continuous rehabilitative treatment to torture victims.
Outcomes and Lessons Learned
- Established a holistic service structure and comprehensive provider team to address torture survivors’ varied and complex needs;
- Organized and conducted trainings and outreach for providers and care coordinators throughout Western New York to enhance their long-term service capacity for refugee torture survivors, including at the 2014 North American Refugee Health Conference, SUNY Buffalo Law School Immigration and Human Rights Clinic, and the Western New York Refugee Health Summit;
- Launched torture survivor rehabilitative treatment to provide counseling, medical care, and mental health education and referrals, serving 165 clients from more than 20 countries; and
- Offered legal and social service assistance through individualized case plans such as assisting torture survivors in finding appropriate health care providers, emergency assistance (e.g., food cards, housing, transportation), and assistance with employment authorization and services.
Co-Funding and Additional Funds Leveraged: JFS successfully leveraged our investment to apply for additional funding from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). In 2015, ORR awarded JFS $696,000 in Services for Torture Survivor funding, to be disbursed over a three-year period, to sustain the Center’s programming developed with NYHealth funds.
Below are some stories that exemplify how the Center successfully enabled torture survivors to realize more independent and productive lives in the United States. Read an article in The Buffalo News about the Center and additional stories of refugees’ journeys.
Ms. E* is a 38-year-old refugee referred to the Center by one of its local partners. Attacked by a militant group in her home country of the Congo because of her beliefs, she was kidnapped, raped, brutally tortured, and mutilated. As a result, Ms. E suffers severe symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, has hearing problems, and experiences difficulties in walking and with her circulation.
The Center’s care coordination team began working with Ms. E in October 2014. She was involved in creating her own case plan, which included stabilizing housing, accessing health care, and seeking rehabilitative activities. The Center’s staff has assisted her in finding appropriate health care providers; conducted medical and psychological forensic evaluations; coordinated with her immigration lawyers; and provided emergency assistance as needed, such as food cards and transportation.
After extensive counseling and assistance from the Center, Ms. E has begun feeling better medically. She has placed her trust in the Center and its staff, and also has begun to smile and laugh again. She now volunteers by tending to the Center’s garden, which has helped her break down fear and allowed her to express feelings about her new life in the United States.
Mr. B*, now 36 years old, had been a successful professional in Nigeria, but because of his ethnicity, he was extorted by a criminal group. When he would not pay the extortion, he was kidnapped, placed in a government-run prison, and beaten by prison guards. As a result, he suffers from anxiety and is afraid to be in contact with anyone from his community.
Referred to the Center, Mr. B was involved in creating his case plan, determining the direction and order in which services are provided to him. Since he started at the Center, he has received many services to help him rebuild his life, including medical and psychological forensic evaluations; health services; assistance with employment authorization and employment services; psycho-education on the effects of torture and trauma; training on relaxation techniques and coping skill mechanisms; rental assistance; referrals for prenatal care and WIC for his wife; and linkage with a religious organization so he can practice his faith.
As a result, Mr. B has developed an increased interest in giving back and has begun looking for ways to help survivors. He is able to function in a wide range of activities to support his family and have a relatively safe and stable life.
*Name hidden to protect privacy