Why Is Our Work Important?
The restoration of justice and human rights for survivors of torture and trauma is the foundation of QPASTT’s services and support.
What is torture?
The use of torture is prohibited by international law. However, it is still practised in many countries.
The United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT) defines torture as being:
… any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.”
Torture is an act that involves intense humiliation and can range in severity from mild to extreme physical and psychological cruelty. The intention is not only to cause severe pain and suffering but to also instil fear in the victim, their family and their community. The aim of the torturer is to break down the humanity, dignity, identity and self-respect of the individual. Fear is an essential element of torture. When torture is used, a whole society, not just the individual who is being tortured, lives in fear. Other members of society are afraid that it will also happen to them.
In this way, torture is a tool of social control used by a system that rules individuals and societies through fear.
What is refugee-related trauma?
People become refugees or asylum seekers in the context of political conflict, organised violence and human rights violations committed against particular groups who are targeted due to aspects of their identity. Therefore, it is extremely personal, and this has consequences for how people cope with the aftermath of what they have been through.
We use the term ‘trauma’ to refer to the pain, distress, suffering and other physical, psychological or social consequences that our clients experience in the context of political violence, or arising from their forced migration journey.
Traumatic experiences prior to leaving may include:
- prolonged harassment, intimidation
- forced separation from loved ones
- chaos, attacks, invasions, raids
- killings and disappearances
- detainment, imprisonment without trial
- sexual abuse, rape
- war, bombing
- terrorism by the state or other groups
Other common experiences of refugees and asylum seekers after they have fled persecution in their country include:
- dangerous journeys
- prolonged uncertainty about the future, protracted limbo
- extended time spent in refugee camps
- living in urban centres without legal status
- limited access to basic needs, extreme hardship
- overcrowding, poor hygiene, poor nutrition
- exploitation and discrimination
The experience for people seeking asylum
People seeking asylum can face additional stress while applying for refugee status. These experiences can create additional pain, distress and suffering in addition to the trauma a person as already experienced as a result of being forced to flee.
While awaiting the outcome of their refugee applications, people seeking asylum can experience high levels of anxiety caused by the ongoing sense of uncertainty and constant fear of being forced to return. People seeking asylum often have limited access to financial and health care supports.
Typical stresses faced by people seeking asylum can include:
- A diminished capacity to future plan, develop social connections and feel a sense of belonging in Australia
- Many clients who have experienced offshore processing will hold the belief that they are not being believed by the Australian and offshore governments
- Feelings of powerlessness
- Exposure to unfavourable media coverage and views of the wider community about not being welcomed
- Limited or no access to family reunification processes
- Limited access to resources required to support positive mental health, including employment, English language skills, secure housing
How does trauma affect people?
A trauma reaction is a common response to the feelings of helplessness, intense fear or horror associated with a personal experience of war or civil conflict. Trauma can also be caused by witnessing or hearing about a traumatic event or being the target of actual or threatened death or injury. For many of our clients there is ongoing trauma due to the fears they hold for loved ones who remain in situations of risk such as their country of origin, refugee camps or other countries where their rights and safety are in jeopardy.
Each person is unique and the impact of trauma will be different for each person. Things that influence the way that trauma affects each person include previous experiences of safety/trauma, migration experiences, family history, age, culture, personality, ways of coping, relationships and support systems. It doesn’t matter if you are young or old, male or female: trauma affects people from all walks of life.
Trauma impacts different people in different ways and at different times. For example, some people may notice effects soon after experiencing trauma. For others it may be years later and the changes they notice in themselves may vary. Sometimes it may be hard to see the connection between past trauma and what a person is feeling now.
The Need for Equity
At the end of 2020, more than 80 million people had been forcibly displaced worldwide due to persecution, conflict and human rights violations. Over 80 percent of the world’s refugees are being hosted in low and middle income countries; less than one percent are resettled every year in high income countries.
Equity should be at the core of any response to address the protection needs and to support the recovery, and the health and wellbeing of people from refugee backgrounds. In the context of QPASTT work, equity means that each survivor has access to the resources required to recover from torture and trauma, including those needed to address the social and environmental determinants of their health and wellbeing. A systematic attention to culture (i.e. survivors’ culture, society’s culture and services’ culture) is fundamental to addressing inequities and fostering recovery.
Importantly, equity also means that survivors are able to have control over their own healing journey. There cannot be justice and liberation without equity.