PROGRAMME FOR THE REHABILITATION OF TORTURE SURVIVORS “PROMETHEUS”
(GREEK COUNCIL FOR REFUGEES)
The Program for the Rehabilitation of Survivors of Torture «PROMETHEUS» was first introduced in February 2013 and is implemented by the Greek Council for Refugees (GCR) and Syneirmos/Babel Day Centre, in co-operation with Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), who joined the programme in October 2014. It aims at an interdisciplinary and holistic approach to the provision of legal, social, medical, psychological and psychiatric services to asylum seekers and refugees who have been subjected to torture.
The Programme was initially funded by the European Union until January 2017. From January through June of the same year it received emergency funding by Medecins Sans Frontieres in order to maintain its continuous operation. Since June 2017 and until May 2018 it is funded by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation.
In 2017, the Programme expanded further. Starting with a team of two lawyers, a political scientist and two social workers, the Programme today includes four lawyers (one of which acts as the Programme’s coordinator), a political scientist and four social workers.
In 2017, the Programme welcomed 108 new cases and continued to serve 136 cases from previous years. Thus, during 2017 a total of 244 torture survivors benefited from the Programme (40 women and 204 men). However, the actual number of beneficiaries is even larger considering that some of the beneficiaries of PROMETHEUS are in Greece with members of their family, who consequently are indirect beneficiaries of the Programme. From the total number of program’s beneficiaries in 2017, 16% were women and 84% men.
In the same year, the beneficiaries came from 33 countries, while 2 stateless persons were also served. The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iran and Syria are the top 3 countries of origin in terms of the number of people served.
The evolution of the Programme during 2017
In parallel with the team’s expansion, a weekly meeting was established with the purpose of coordinating and ensuring the smooth running of the Programme.
In the meantime, there was an effort to consolidate practices within GCR that improve the level of communication with the vulnerable group of torture survivors and thus confer the Programme its consistent quality. With this in mind, SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) were established regarding the intake and reception of beneficiaries in the Programme. A two-day training (31/10/2017 & 01/11/2017) was also provided by the Programme manager to the GCR Screening team in Athens, as well as a training day (07/12/2017) for GCR’s new lawyers working in Athens and Ioannina regarding the intake and handling of cases that pertain to vulnerable people (such as survivors of torture, violence and trafficking).
During the same year, a designated room for meetings and interviews was set up in GCR’s central building (Solomou 25, Athens), with a view of cultivating a climate of trust and security with the beneficiaries.
Continuous education and participation in working groups
Because of the team’s expansion with new lawyers and social workers (many of which had never before worked with such a vulnerable subgroup of the refugee population), but also due to our core belief in continuous professional development, the team continued to pursue constant education by participating in the following conferences, seminars, training days and working groups:
Seminars – Conferences
- Training on the application of the Istanbul Protocol regarding the identification of torture victims. Provided by the Turkish organization Human Rights Foundation, Athens 6-9/01/2017, (Organized by: Programme PROMETHEUS I).
- Seminaron «Identification of Victims and Potential Victims of Trafficking in Human Beings», Athens, 3-4/04/2017, (Organized by: United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes- UNODC / Department of Human Trafficking and Migrant Smuggling – Office of the Greek National Rapporteur on Combating Trafficking in Human Beings).
- Conference on «Worldwork 2017: Deep Democracy in a World of Divides – Shifting Consciousness in Politics, Economics, Ecology and Relationships», Porto Kheli, 23-28/05/2017, (Organized by: International Association of Process Oriented Psychology (IAPOP), Processwork Greece, Processwork HUB, The Athenian Institute of Anthropos).
- Seminar on Crisis Managementby theGestaltFoundation, Athens, 23/6/2017 και 7/7/2017, (Organized by: MSF).
- Seminar on «Combating Human Trafficking along Migration Routes», Vincenza, Italy, 5-9/6/2017, (Organized by: Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe).
- Training on «Case Management Response to Gender-Based Violence», Athens, 6-10/11/2017, (Organized by: United Nations Population Fund- UNFPA)
- Training by Professor Renos Papadopoulos (Essex University, Director of Centrefor Trauma, AsylumandRefugees-CTAR)provided to the professionals of the three teams in VOT Rehabilitation Programme (GCR, MSF, Babel), Athens, 14-16/11/2017 (Organized by: Babel).
Meetings – Workshops – Training Days
- Participation in the working groups of the Health and Wellness Committee of ACCMR, Athens, July 2017 to today.
- Participation in the working groups of the Urbanization Committee of ACCMR, Athens, September 2017 to today.
- Organization of and participation in the one-day workshop with the Partners of the interdisciplinary team on the topic of our collaboration, Athens, 30/11/2017.
- Participation in the Annual Meeting of the European Network of Rehabilitation Centers for Survivors of Tortures, Bucharest, 12-14/11/2017.
- Participation in the symposium «Music, Torture, Therapy: A symposium on Music in Detention», Athens, 2/11/2017, (Organized by: Centre for Research on Humanities).
- Participation in the working group «First working group on the National Report Mechanism regarding trafficking» at the National Centre of Social Solidarity (ΕΚΚΑ), Athens, throughout 2017.
- Participation in the panel of the MSF Colloquium on torture survivors, Athens, 26/6/2017, (Organized by: MSF).
The complexity of the problems faced by the beneficiaries
During the past year, the team faced a number of challenges including the fact that a large number of beneficiaries are homeless, as well as the fact that many of them have to live with chronic physical and mental health issues. The latter impacts deeply the work of a holistic rehabilitation, since the combination of the aftermath of torture with harsh social conditions pose a serious challenge.
A beneficiary from DRC, a torture survivor, left the Moria hotspot on Lesvos (where he had not been identified as a victim of torture) in violation of the the geographical restriction imposed on him. On arriving in Athens, he requested help from the PROMETHEUS team. The incidents that took place at the Moria hotspot in the autumn of 2016 led to a revival of traumatic events he had experienced in his home country, aggravating his already aggravated mental condition. This case had multiple dimensions, as did its challenges and the actions that had to be taken over time.
We were faced with a man confused, disoriented and homeless, with difficulties in co-operation, deeply depressive and in a bad physical condition, with no identification documents (since his asylum seeker card had expired and he had arrived in Athens illegally). Finding an accommodation facility was particularly hard, because of his legal status and also because of his bad mental health condition. The assigned social worker had to take extraordinary steps in order to cover this basic need, as this was necessary to create appropriate and safe conditions for any further collaboration between the beneficiary and the rest of the team (lawyer, psychologist, doctor and psychiatrist).
The result of procedure delays
The delay of the establishment of a Transitional Appeals Committee (before which an estimated number of 3,000 cases are pending since 2016, several of which have been filed by vulnerable applicants) but also the great delay that has been observed in the issuing of decisions (either by the Asylum Service or the Appeals Authority) have significantly burdened the already grave mental condition of a number of the Programme’s beneficiaries. Some of them, in despair, left Greece illegally.
With regard to our collaboration with our two partner organizations (BABEL and MSF), the features that made PROMETHEUS an exemplary Programme for the rehabilitation of torture survivors in previous years remained constant throughout 2017. Interdisciplinary collaboration is the key tool for achieving this goal, which is served through the common management of cases by professionals of various disciplines (doctors, physiotherapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, lawyers) of all three organizations. The lawyers and social workers of GCR work closely with the professionals of BABEL and MSF, referring to them torture survivors to whom they are providing legal and social support, in order for them to receive, according to their needs, psychological, medical and psychiatric support. Respectively, they undertake the legal and social support of torture survivors referred to them by the other two organizations.
The framework of our collaboration is epitomized by the division of supervisory tasks of the individual aspects of the support provided, and by the frequent communication among the professionals in order to ensure an individualized approach to each beneficiary according to their needs. In addition to the direct communication of the professionals involved in an individual case, our collaboration is complemented by weekly meetings of the entire team for the discussion of common cases and by joint participation in training seminars. At the same time, every fortnight the professionals of all three organizations participate in mentoring sessions that take place via Skype with Professor Renos Papadopoulos (Essex University, Director of Centrefor Trauma, AsylumandRefugees -CTAR).
A few of the team’s successes
Despite the obstacles in the asylum context in Greece that persisted throughout 2017, this year 42 beneficiaries of PROMETHEUS Programme, of various nationalities (but also two stateless persons) received protection status (refugee status, subsidiary protection, residence permit due to humanitarian reasons). Among these 21% were women and 79% were men.
Countries of origin vary, with the Democratic Republic of the Congo at the first place.
It is important to note these decisions that grant protection status to beneficiaries of the Programme include not only jurisprudence that significantly evolves the national asylum case law but also decisions that demonstrate the necessity of an interdisciplinary, holistic approach to asylum seekers with a history of torture.
For the PROMETHEUS team, working with torture survivors is about a lot more than achieving programme goals or realizing professional ambition. The survivors’ rehabilitation goes beyond mere advocacy and social support in the context of their asylum applications, and instead includes taking action on many levels.
The importance of education
The education of torture survivors can play a major role in their rehabilitation. In this spirit, during 2017, the team informed and directed 18 beneficiaries regarding their ability to submit applications to the scholarship programme “Education Unites: From Camp to Campus” offered by the US Embassy in Athens. The team provided references for them and today some of the beneficiaries are already studying at the American College of Greece – Deree College.
In the memory of S.
In March 2016, a 41-year-old woman from an African country was referred to the Programme. The social worker that undertook her case supported and advised her with the aim of further establishing her profile and vulnerability. As a first impression, she gave off the image of a wary, suspicious, and scared woman with depressive elements. During her co-operation with the PROMETHEUS team, S. was identified as torture survivor and was referred to MSF and BABEL in order to receive specialized medical and psychological support.
In the following months, a number of collaborative actions by professionals of all three organizations took place (social worker, lawyer, psychologist, psychiatrist, doctor) with the aim of addressing the consequences of torture and her harsh living conditions. Eventually, S. was diagnosed with two chronic life threatening diseases. After persistent effort, a hosting environment appropriate to her needs was found, one in which she would be able to adapt to her new life conditions and receive the appropriate care and medical treatment. The professionals working at the accommodation she was hosted in contributed immensely to this process. The collaboration between all professionals was in fact the main tool used to address the complexity of S.’s problems, as well as reveal and enhance her strength and resilience. During all that time, S. suffered from constant and intense anxiety regarding her three children who lived in different countries.
A year and four months after the beginning of our collaboration with S., her health deteriorated rapidly and she was hospitalized in a public hospital. Each professional, working with her, was on her side during that time, both practically and emotionally. When S. passed away, one of her children’s desire (who resided in her country of origin) was to return their mother’s body to her home country. This became a top priority, both for the professionals and for the local community of her compatriots. The Community covered most of the funds needed for the transportation of the body while the rest was covered by an internet campaign run by the team’s professionals. The journey of S.’s body back to her home country began and was completed in this way.
PROMETHEUS Programme recognised as best practice model, twice.
In conclusion, through the particular structure of the Programme and the long-term collaboration with our two partner organizations (BABEL and MSF), a team of highly specialized professionals in the field of identifying and rehabilitating torture survivors has emerged. It was these features that led to the characterization of PROMETHEUS as “best practice” in the final report of the project “Time for Needs: Listening, Healing, Protecting. A joint Action for an Appropriate Assessment of Special Needs of Victims of Torture and Violence” which was completed in 2017 and was implemented by six NGOs coming from six distinct European countries (Italy, Greece, Malta, Portugal, France and Germany) in co-operation with European Council on Refugees and Exiles.
In addition, PROMETHEUS is presented as good practice in the study “Integration of Refugees in Greece, Hungary and Italy. Comparative analysis” implemented in 2017 per request of the European Parliament’s Committee on Employment and Social Affairs (EMPL).