Conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Israel/Palestine, and Yemen have created the world’s largest refugee crisis since the end of World War II.
Jordan, a long-standing oasis of stability in the Middle East, officially hosts over 656,000 Syrian refugees and nearly 62,000 Iraqi refugees. It is believed there are many more who are not officially registered. This is in addition to more than two million Palestinian refugees whom Jordan has hosted for decades, and new, recent influxes of people fleeing Yemen, Somalia, and South Sudan.
Since 2008, Jordan has provided a base for the Center for Victims of Torture’s (CVT) operations in the region where refugees—often reluctant to seek help from US organizations—have found safety, trust, and renewed hope. CVT’s Jordanian staff report feeling empowered and inspired by continued US support for their work and the many supportive Americans and other western professionals they work alongside at CVT. They also express a desire to contribute to peace and stability across their borders, and to support their peers in other countries.
A large percentage of refugees fleeing war and systematic oppression are survivors of torture. In the US, it is estimated that up to 44% of refugees are torture survivors. There is no reason to believe this percent is lower in Jordan, although there is no official estimate.
Even if they have not been tortured, all refugees have experienced the loss of their homelands and many have witnessed atrocities such as the bombing of their homes, schools, and hospitals. Many have survived gross human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law.
CVT fills a niche role. Over 30 years, CVT clients have told us that it is the psychological effects of torture from which it is most difficult to recover—a common act is to force people to watch or listen to family members being tortured. Common after effects are flashbacks, intrusive memories, inability to sleep or concentrate, and crippling anxiety and depression. Mental and physical trauma rehabilitation is a specialized field that requires in-depth training and practice.
Although a number of organizations provide for the basic needs of refugees such as food and shelter, there is very little available to address the profoundly destabilizing effects of war trauma and torture. The decrease in functioning resulting from trauma is magnified under the hardships of life as a refugee and the lack of hope for returning home. Torture and war trauma can lead to disabling conditions that interfere with the most basic functions of daily life, and the ongoing, violent nature of the conflict back home can further impede healing. Those suffering from traumatic experiences can become immobilized by their symptoms, unable to contribute to their family’s well-being (or for children, to attend school) or function within their communities. This also manifests in high rates of suicide, child abuse, and domestic violence among refugees as well as negative coping mechanisms, including child labor, prostitution, and risky attempts to reach safety that leave migrants vulnerable to human trafficking and slavery.
From the most recent program period, the demographics of CVT clients in Jordan were as follows: 43% were men and 57% were women. Twenty-six percent were children. Sixty-five percent were Syrian, 27% Iraqi, and eight percent were Sudanese, Yemeni, or Somali. The demographics of our workforce in Jordan are as follows: 92% of CVT’s counselors, 66% of its social workers, and 70% of its physiotherapists are women. All are Jordanian, due to government restrictions on refugees working.
Given the chronic nature of the refugee situation in Jordan, it is time to sustainably formalize trauma rehabilitation training and embed it into the Jordanian higher-education system. While a Jordanian “owned” training center is the long-term aim, CVT will be addressing urgent needs while moving toward this goal. CVT has always provided in-depth training to its own staff, who then apply what they have learned by co-facilitating mental health and physical therapy groups alongside experienced professionals, and eventually facilitate the groups themselves.
Given the lack of trauma rehabilitation services and professional training in Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere—and the stability and support found in Jordan—it makes sense to physically locate a regional training center in Amman, in partnership with local and regional universities and other organizations with a similar vision. CVT will explore innovative technology platforms to reach professionals, partners, and survivors in remote or dangerous areas in the region, or those for whom cost or other considerations make travel to Amman impractical.
How this project will contribute to Building Bridges of Peace and Prosperity:
It is no surprise that individuals who have witnessed atrocities against their families, communities, and nation often feel angry and resentful. Sometimes it is depression or deep feelings of shame that are most difficult to cope with. This often leads to the breakdown of family relationships, and is a main contributing factor to the strikingly high incidence of domestic abuse among refugees in Jordan. This project will help individuals to heal, enabling them to think positively about the future. When hope is restored, people are able to focus on rebuilding their lives. Additionally, CVT clients report that through its group-based model, social and community cohesion – often severed in times of war, violence, and oppression – is improved. Empathizing with others from different religions, sects, ethnicities, politics, and countries, can help restore some of the damaged trust and ties that serve to rebuild communities wherever refugees return or resettle.
As for Prosperity, CVT’s organizational goal is to help survivors “rebuild productive lives of dignity.” When survivors’ symptoms improve—when they are able to get a good night’s sleep, manage their thoughts and emotions, and flashbacks recede, they are able to focus in school, manage a household, hold a job, or otherwise be productive.
The second way this project would contribute to prosperity is by developing knowledge and skills of trauma rehabilitation professionals. This project will also support training of administrative employees who are the backbone of any organization, such as human resources and finance professionals.
Women play a critical role in delivering these services, particularly in the Middle East where cultural considerations may prohibit men from engaging in services for rape survivors. While only 16% of Jordanian women are active in the workforce, 92% of CVT’s counselors, 66% of its social workers, and 70% of its physiotherapists are women. Promoting the professional development of women can have ripple effects. Research by micro lending and other organizations has shown that when women prosper, families and communities prosper.