April 14, 2016

New York/RomeDoctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) teams in Rome have opened a rehabilitation center for survivors of torture and other forms of inhumane treatment. The center will offer medical, psychological, and socio-legal assistance to any migrant, refugee, or asylum seeker who was tortured or subjected to other forms of targeted violence, regardless of their place of origin or current legal status.

The project is in line with activities MSF has been carrying out in Rome since October 2015, in partnership with the Italian association Medici Contro la Tortura (Doctors Against Torture) and in collaboration with the Associazione per gli Studi Giuridici sull’Immigrazione (Association for Law Studies on Immigration). So far, MSF teams have provided treatment to 50 people from 18 different countries—primarily people from western Sub-Saharan Africa, the Horn of Africa, Egypt, and South Asia—who suffered violence in their countries of origin or during their journeys to Europe.

"While we provide assistance to migrants and refugees, we deal with tragic stories of violence and abuses that need specific attention and treatment," said Gianfranco De Maio, MSF project coordinator. "We are able to make deep connections with individuals and address the profound emotions they are wrestling with, all the while fully respecting their privacy."

MSF designed the center in way that will not re-traumatize people—by resembling the places where they were tortured, for example. "The center has been designed to create a space that helps foster a sense of mutual trust and confidence between patients and caregivers," De Maio said. "It is a space where these people can manage their anger, fear, suspicions, and resignation—all of which are direct consequences of the torture they experienced."

MSF provides rehabilitative services through a multidisciplinary approach carried out by a team composed of a doctor, a psychiatrist, a psychologist, forensic scientist, physiotherapist, two social assistants, two legal experts, and 12 cultural mediators and translators.

MSF is drawing on its experience assisting asylum seekers and migrants who landed in Europe and were held in reception centers in Sicily. About 80 percent of patients MSF treated there said they suffered abuses and violence during the journey towards Europe, usually in Libya, where most were stranded for several months. For this reason, the center treats not only torture survivors, but also people who were detained for extended periods of time, treated poorly, or subjected to violence in their country of origin or en route to Europe.

"Torture and inhumane treatment are widespread, and we make treatment a key aspect of our projects on migration," said Tommaso Fabbri, MSF head of mission in Italy. "Without safe passage to reach Europe, many people are particularly exposed to the risk of abuse and violence, which could have serious medical and psychological consequences over the long term. Through its work, MSF has developed an expertise in working with torture survivors, and this project is designed to provide an adequate response to the suffering of these people, and to offer them an opportunity of full rehabilitation."

MSF has worked in Italy since 2002, primarily at disembarkation spots on Sicilian shores and in reception centers for migrants and asylum seekers. Since 2015, MSF efforts have consisted mainly of providing medical and psychological assistance to people who reach our country after long and perilous journeys, and who are in urgent need of medical and psychological care. It is our intention for 2016 to continue and strengthen our work on migrants’ mental health, in Rome as well as in Sicily, though projects already on-going or opening soon.

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