Asylum Case Reversal Confirms FGM as Persecution
On September 22, 2008, staff at BCRHHR shared in an important victory for women's rights. On this date, U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey issued a rare reversal of the Board of Immigration Appeals case of Alima Traore, a 28-year-old woman from Mali. Ms. Traore, who was forced to undergo female genital mutilation (FGM) as a child in Mali, was denied asylum based on the reasoning that FGM is persecution that cannot be repeated, and therefore cannot be used as grounds for asylum in the U.S. Not only was this ruling inconsistent with past asylum cases involving claims of persecution in the form of FGM, but according to Attorney General Mukasey, the reasoning of the Board in the Traore case was essentially "flawed."
The Board likened FGM to losing a limb, claiming that while it does present "enduring harm," it is not a strong enough reason to grant asylum, because, in effect, it cannot be lost again. Yet, as millions of women from parts of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East know, FGM is not necessarily a singular event, and is often accompanied by further gender-based persecution.
Experts from across the country advocated for Mukasey to overturn the Traore ruling. Amongst those who submitted an amicus brief to the court was BCRHHR staff member Dr. Kelley Saia, in collaboration with Dr. Michael Grodin, Dr. Sondra Crosby, and George Annas. The brief echoed concerns that FGM presents multiple future gynecological and psychological health problems. Ms. Traore also expressed fear that if she returned to Mali, her father would force her into an arranged marriage with a cousin, and that any future daughters she might have would be subject to the trauma of FGM.
With Mukasey's reversal, a critical precedent is again set - a precedent that upholds women's rights as human rights in the context of seeking refuge from the consequences of FGM. Center staff feel privileged to have played a role in the advancement of women's rights on this front.
- Megan Halmo
Boston University School of Public Health
Department of Health Law, Bioethics and Human Rights
A Night of Remembrance & Rejoicing
On June 25th, BCRHHR hosted their fifth annual June Gala. 'A Night of Remembrance & Rejoicing' is held each year to honor the United Nations declaration of June 26th as the International Day to Support Victims of Torture. Staff at BCRHHR view these individuals as survivors, rather than victims, and as the BCRHHR has helped many of those who have endured persecution and torture, we use this day to remember the past but also to rejoice in present triumphs. What better way to show the resilience of humanity than sharing the celebratory spirit with the people who are the symbols of resilience itself.
The evening featured presentations including a heartfelt poetry reading from a BCRHHR client about her faith in America and her gratitude for providing a safe haven for many refugees and asylees. There were inspirational speeches from guests such as Emile Kamadeu, an asylee from Cameroon who shared his story with the audience as a testament to the difference the Refugee Program made in his life. Sarah Ignatius, Executive Director of the PAIR project, reflected on the importance of remembering the past as a key to future when the stories of noble survivors become interwoven into the lives of their children. Joshua, a BCRHHR client and activist, shared his thoughts about the role of youth on the front lines of the fight for human rights. He stated "my goal for the future is to see all the youth involved in policy making processes at all policy levels to promote democracy and the rule of law. We the youth are not leaders of tomorrow, we are leading today."
One highlight of the evening was the presentation of the Annual Obuntu Award to Rita Kantarowski, former Regional Director of the International Rescue Committee, for her passionate work and selfless dedication to Refugee families in Greater Boston and beyond. Obuntu is a Zulu word that means the "the essence of being human" (Archbishop Desmond Tutu). Obuntu recognizes that all people are interwoven and interdependent -- a central theme of the night, as survivors from all over the world come together to share their rich cultural traditions.
Certificates of Appreciation were presented to Megan Wulff and Danielle Delosh of the Boston University School of Public Health's Health and Human Rights Caucus for their contribution to BCRHHR clients over the past several years. The HHRC sponsors an annual coat drive and has raised needed funds for the Refugee Program.
Finally, guests wearing elaborate traditional costumes participated in a fashion show. They proudly presented their costumes to the audience while cat walking to the beats of Ugandan drummers. They were joined shortly thereafter by members of the audience who could not resist the urge to move to the music. The spirit of the night, though joyous and relaxed, was a testament to the obligations that all human beings have to one another to celebrate and accept all of our differences with the knowledge that, deep down, we are all the same.
- Kerry Daigle
"Human spirit can supersede extremes of violence"
- Boston Globe Letter to the Editor
As someone with family in the village of Sandy Hook in Newtown, Connecticut, I am heartbroken by the events of this past Friday. The natural tendency is to remain focused on the senseless carnage of precious innocent children as we try to understand how something so horrible could happen. As a physician who works with torture survivors exposed to the infliction of pain and suffering under circumstances of total defenselessness, I am reminded each day in my work that, even in the face of amorphous evil, man's extraordinary human spirit strengthened by faith and courage can supersede extremes of violence.
Rabbi Harold Kushner's book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People--note that the title begins "when" and not "why"--encourages us to see the hands of God in the ways we respond to the suffering of another. I think of the examples of self-sacrifice, the efforts to protect, the heartfelt weeping and grief in places of worship and homes across the United States, the thousands of vigils occurring far from Sandy Hook, the call that each child should matter, the cries for a safer world. I hope that this tragedy becomes a transformative historical moment for all of us.
- Lin Piwowarczyk, MD, MPH
Boston Center for Refugee Health and Human Rights
Journey to Healing:
An Interview with Jolly Kabatoro, Uganda
Why did you leave your country?
By the grace of the God Almighty, I left my husband because my four children and I were being subjected to domestic violence. I came to Boston in 2007.
How did you find the Boston Center for Refugee Health & Human Rights?
I did not know where to turn and I asked my pastor to help me find a "refugee camp" where I knew I would get help and human rights. My pastor introduced me to Pastor Mutyaba, who brought me to Boston Medical Center.
What were you like when you first came to us?
I was so fearful, I was afraid to face anyone. I never trusted anyone. At first, I thought that Boston Medical Center was a trick to arrest me, but I trusted Pastor Mutyaba.
What services did you receive and what was most important?
I got referred to a lawyer, I got a counselor, food from the food pantry, I got a bus card and a calling card to call my children. That's when I realized that this might be real help. The most helpful things I got were treatment, good doctors who showed love to me again, lawyers who cared and counselors who made me alive again. I knew there were people outside who cared and loved me once more, especially when I got winter clothes and shoes, for I was freezing! I got English lessons which helped me to understand the people I was meeting in this journey.
What are you doing now?
My lawyers worked hard; it was not easy, but I was granted asylum, then a green card. I started working as a home health aide and at age 55, I learned to drive a car. I'm very proud of that! I have just completed a Red Cross training program. I passed the state exam and am now a certified nursing assistant.
What are you working on for your future?
I am trying to bring my children to join me. I would like to go back to school. The sky is the limit for me. I can follow my dreams! I thank all those who made this possible: Pastor Mutyaba, Boston Medical Center and the Boston Center for Refugee Health & Human Rights, my team of doctors, my lawyers at Community Legal Services and Counseling Center, my English teacher and all those who donated and are still donating to BMC. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Be Blessed!
- Edi Ablavsky, BCRHHR Volunteer
On the Road to Good Health
When an individual or family is uprooted from all they are accustomed to, and face the daunting challenge of starting over in a strange, new culture, the experience often takes a toll on their health. This fall, we piloted a series of workshops to help clients learn about their health and navigate the health care system in the United States. In these workshops, men and women from Uganda, Cameroon and Somalia learned how to prevent disease, manage their health, and prepare nutritious food in a new, unfamiliar environment. The classes culminated with a hands-on cooking session at Boston Medical Center's state of the art demonstration kitchen.
"It was very educative mostly because it helps one learn the difference in the health care system from one's country," one class member said. "One is able to make comparisons and also learn to adjust to the different myths and perceptions that he/she could have."
The workshops were developed and piloted by Saba Islam, a second-year BU medical student who joined the Center as a Schweitzer fellow in May 2013. She came to the U.S. from Bangladesh when she was two years old, and saw her parents struggle to make a life here. She spent a summer as an intern at Lutheran Family Services where she helped recent refugee families to forge a new life in the Boston area. These experiences contributed to her desire to help communities develop the skills they need to lead healthy, productive lives.
Celebrating Courage at the Beehive
In October, we celebrated the courage of those who pass through our doors with our Inaugural Fall Fete at the Beehive eatery on Tremont Street. Kate Walsh, President and CEO of Boston Medical Center, kicked off the program with some highlights of the work of the Center.
"We hear about refugees and victims of political and religious strife in the news every day," said Walsh. "It is hard to believe we have many refugees right here in our own community, struggling to find a place to live, learn a new language, or get a job. Thanks to Dr. Lin and her work, we can help these clients. And with the help of people like you, we can do even more."
"We are here to celebrate the courage of our patients, many of whom have endured great suffering due to their race, religion, ethnicity, nationality, political activity or membership in a social group," Dr. Lin, Director of BCRHHR, told the group. "Many were actively trying to improve the lives of those around them. On a dime, life changed-being forced into exile, seeking safety, leaving behind everything known and loved."
Dr. Kemoh Salia-Bao from Sierra Leone provided a living example of the clients who come to the Center. After being subjected to surveillance, harassment and threats to his family and property, he and his family fled Sierra Leone and eventually landed in Boston with very little hope -- unable to work to support themselves, and in poor physical and mental health as a result of years spent under the stress of constant harassment and fear. BCRHHR and BMC helped Salia-Bao and his family to rebuild their lives, providing counseling, medical attention, transportation assistance, food from the pantry, and clothing from donations to the Center. "I remember the first suit I wore in this country was lovingly given to me by Erica [BCRHHR administrator]," said Salia-Bao. "I am wearing that suit tonight."
By all measures, the evening was a rousing success. Everyone came out, had fun, learned something new, and in the process raised needed funds for the Boston Center for Refugee Health & Human Rights at BMC! Thanks to all who attended, to the Friends of Women's Health who co-sponsored the event, and to the many dedicated volunteers. Special thanks to the Fall Fete planning committee for making this night a success: Pam Adams, Kathryn Bloom, Georgina Castellucci, Stacy Cowan, Amy Holman, Ilana Hurwitz, Kia Martin, Jody Rose, Michelle Shell, Wendy Weiss, and Mariann Youniss. Many thanks to the following donors for their generous contributions: SoulCycle, Platejoy, Olives & Grace, Blank Label, BeStyled Blow Dry Bar, Wendy Weiss, BMC Dermatology, and the Beehive!
Thank you all for your kindness and support.
- Edith T. Ablavsky, BCRHHR Volunteer
9th Annual NCTTP Symposium
Every year the National Consortium for Torture Treatment Programs (NCTTP) holds an all-day academic symposium in Washington D.C. to share the work, research and best practices of all of the different torture treatment programs. This year's symposium was held on March 6th 2017 and the keynote speakers were Dr. Jens Modvig, current chair of the United Nations Committee Against Torture and Dr. Pamela Collins, associate director for special populations at the National Institute of Mental Health and the director of the Office for Research on Disparities & Global Mental Health and the Office of Rural Mental Health Research. Many participants stated that it was the best symposium to date. Dr. Lin spoke about challenges families feel in their country of origin as loved ones seek asylum in the United States and after six years as the NCTTP's President, she was elected to the position again for the coming term.
Annual Visit to the Capitol
The symposium is followed by a day of advocacy at the nation's capital in which all of the torture treatment centers descend upon Congress to educate legislators on what our programs are doing and on our funding needs. Advocating for the Boston Center for Refugee Health & Human Rights (BCRHHR) took Dr. Lin and program coordinator, Robbie Adams, to the offices of Senator Warren, Senator Markey, Representative Clark and Representative Capuano, all of whom expressed their support for BCRHHR. Representative Clark is on the appropriations committee and her staff members were especially keen to hear about our program and its needs. We are very lucky to have such supportive law makers representing us and our clients in Congress during these challenging and uncertain times.
On January 21st, 2017, the Boston Center for Refugee Health & Human Rights joined the Women's March on Boston Common along with thousands of other supporters of equality. Carrying the BCRHHR's colorful banner alongside people of different ages, religions, ideologies and backgrounds, the feeling of unity was palpable throughout the crowd. BCRHHR was proud to be a part of such a peaceful display of comradery in the city of Boston and throughout the world.
NCTTP Receives the APA 2017 Human Rights Award
The American Psychiatric Association selected the National Consortium of Torture Treatment Programs (NCTTP) as the recipient of the 2017 Human Rights Award. NCTTP President, Lin Piwowarczyk, MD, MPH, accepted this award for the NCTTP at the APA Annual Meeting in San Diego. "The APA Human Rights Award recognizes extraordinary efforts by individuals and organizations focused on promoting and supporting the human rights of populations with mental health needs. Upon recommendation by the APA Council on International Psychiatry, the APA feels strongly that NCTTP demonstrates both dedication and leadership in providing mental health care to the survivors of torture in the United States and advocating for the prevention of torture worldwide, making it a prominent recipient of this prestigious award," wrote Saul Levin, M.D., M.P.A. CEO and Medical Director of the APA. Dr. Lin is seen below with Executive Committee members Cris Riley of Portland and Kathi Anderson of San Diego.
By Linda Zimmerman
Kudos to six clients who have gained new employment during the last 30 days. Their new jobs are: Bicycle Mechanic, Information Technology Technician, Data Analyst, Customer Service Representative, Nursing Assistant, Home Health Aide. Following completion of a series of job readiness workshops (US work culture, skill identification, resume development, mock interviews and job search strategy), clients continue the career development process with a job search. The roller coaster ride of acculturation to the US and integration into the workforce can take as long as one year; therefore, receiving a first paycheck is an incredible boost to a client's morale.
We are implementing a new web-based job readiness program to improve client access to learning if they are unable to attend on-site training. Upwardly Global will provide technical assistance for this effort which is expected to launch in October 2018.
AmeriCorps Host Site:
BCRHHR has become a host site for AmeriCorps' New American Integration Program (NAIP). NAIP serves Immigrants and Refugees throughout Massachusetts. Madeleine Jackman will join our team in September 2018 assisting with a variety of projects that support our mission. (AmeriCorps members commit to a full time service position while receiving a modest living allowance, health benefits, training and an education award.)
Open Avenues Fundraiser
Co-founder and Director of the Boston Center for Refugee Health & Human Rights, Dr. Lin Piwowarczyk, was presented the 2018 Humanitarian Award by OpenAvenues Foundation on September 27, 2018 at the "Response to Migrant Family Separation Crisis Fundraiser" in Boston's Intercontinental Hotel. The award recognizes individuals who have demonstrated an "unwavering commitment to welcome, support, and empower foreign nationals in the United States." Open Avenues' founder, Jeff Goldman, introduced Dr. Lin and thanked her for her for twenty-five years of work providing mental health services to refugees and survivors of torture. The event also recognized the work of the PAIR Project, attorney Harvey Kaplan and attorney Howard Silverman for their contributions to helping refugees, asylum seekers and immigrants in the Greater Boston area. Dr. Ruth Bersin was acknowledged for her provision of supportive housing through her innovative cluster model. . Open Avenues is a newly formed non-profit with a mission "to equip and empower immigrants with opportunities that enable them to reach their full potential and contribute to American society." Reuniting separated family is a necessary step in ensuring immigrants are able to reach their full potential, as the event highlighted.