Emilie Harrell is a graduate student in social work at San Diego State University and a clinical intern at Survivors of Torture, International. Survivors is the local organization that put me in touch with Thabit Khalaf, the Iraqi refugee featured in our Q&A last week.
I stopped by its office this morning and met Harrell, who wanted to add some perspective to the conversation.
Khalaf’s story of anguish over the loss of his son is only one of thousands of similar stories of refugees across San Diego — stories we rarely hear. She sent me this e-mail:
I hear many horrible stories of people’s lives from all over the world. Unfortunately there are thousands of refugees and asylum seekers who have similar stories to Thabit Khalaf’s. Like Thabit, many people have family members killed or tortured by clans in their home country. Many of the women are raped.
That’s not to say that every story is the same. In Thabit’s case, he was able to leave with his wife, but many torture survivors do not have that luxury. Many of our clients are forced to leave all family behind, which frequently includes their wives and young children.
It can be even more difficult for people who do not have access to the refugee resettlement program — like Thabit did — and instead seek political asylum. The majority of them are forced into detention centers once they arrive to the United States. They are locked in the detention center until they are either released or granted asylum.
Not addressed in the article were the mental health needs of refugees and asylum seekers. One of the known results of war is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Many of our clients face this on a daily basis and are haunted by the nightmares of their past. This adds to the many stresses a person will face when assimilating to this country. I have learned that it is very important, as services providers, to not just support their basic needs for employment, shelter, and food, but to also address their mental health needs.
— ADRIAN FLORIDO