A message for the New Year from TASSC International Executive Director

Thank you for everyone who has contributed to our work in 2018

As I look back over 2018, I am filled with gratitude for the many people involved in TASSC International’s efforts.

It was a hectic and challenging year and yet it was very successful and full of new lessons many of which we have learned from each of you. With renewed funding from institutions like the Office of Refugee Resettlement and the DC Mayor’s Office and partnerships with pro bono doctors and lawyers, we are able to provide consistent and exemplary social, psychological, and legal services for torture survivors. As TASSC continues to grow we continue to achieve new milestones in expanding the varied services we provide and engaging our community in what they determine they need most.

In the last three years alone 553 torture survivors have received clinical case management, 952 in-house referrals made, 50 individuals received a medical forensic evaluation to be used for their asylum cases, and 104 received psychological forensic evaluations.

43 Safe Skills Workshops were provided to survivors where they could learn from a wide range of presentations from how to get a drivers license to how to manage stress. 16% of survivors have attended graduate education and more than 31% have attended high school. Nearly all survivors work with TASSC Social Services to apply for work permits and enter the workforce but, unfortunately, it is a challenge for them to find jobs in the fields they were in before coming to the US even though many were leaders in their domain of work in their home countries. Our Career Development Coordinator and team work hard with survivors to help them to overcome barriers or training and credits so they may find safe, new jobs or move back to their careers as educators, doctors, or journalists to they may contribute to both their community at home and in the US. In that regard, not only have survivors worked individually with employment coaches and volunteers at TASSC, they’ve also had access to 8 of our education fairs and 9 of our hiring events.

One of the biggest challenges in the last three years, especially in the last two, is the changing policy about asylum that does not favor people who are seeking safety in the US. The complexity of the systemic changes and backlog has added more work not only to our Legal team but also to our Health and Psychological Wellness team that is working hard to attend to survivors with high anxiety due to those stressful policies that had affected many of them as well as their families. The numbers really speak for themselves. In the past 3 years, our legal team has represented 300 survivors, and 621 survivors (not single cases) have received legal advice through orientation sessions. At the same time, 312 survivors (not single cases) have benefited from psychotherapy and psychiatric care.

Our advocacy team has tirelessly worked to raise awareness about different issues affecting asylum seekers in the United States and also has worked with the US State Department and the US Congress to hold accountable different people practicing torture, unlawful imprisonment, enforced disappearances in different countries. In 2018 alone, over 70 survivors from 14 different countries participated in June Survivors Week and other advocacy activities. They came from Argentina, Cameroon, Congo- Brazzaville, the Democratic Republic of Congo, El Salvador, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Guinea-Conakry, Kenya, Nepal, Philippines, Rwanda, Sudan, and West Papua. The advocacy program organized 52 meetings on June 26—Advocacy Day—and 20 more during the rest of the year for survivor-advocates and TASSC supporters. Delegations discussed: (1) Why the United States should be a leader on global human rights and ensure protection for refugees and asylum seekers; and (2) How the U.S. can pressure countries that torture their people and commit other gross human rights abuses to end such practices. The majority of these meetings took place during June Survivors Week, which is held every year to commemorate June 26, the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.

Perhaps one of our greatest advocacy achievements took place last year as well when TASSC survivors played a significant role in the passage of House Resolution 128 on human rights abuses in Ethiopia - the bill passed the U.S. House of Representatives on April 10. This bi-partisan Resolution condemned torture, the killing of peaceful protesters by security forces, and the arrest of journalists, students and political leaders who demonstrated or wrote about brutal government policies.

I thank all TASSC International staff for their passion and commitment to providing torture informed and survivor-led services to survivors of torture in need, all the interns, fellows mentors, and volunteers.

I also want to thank everyone who has financially contributed to our work: individual donors, Foundations, Churches, the DC Mayor’s Office, and other partners. Your support has allowed us to do the work we are doing.

Many thanks to our Board of Directors for their advice and their guidance. Of course, I cannot finish without thanking Sr Dianna Ortiz who had the vision to start TASSC as a place of safety and comfort and mutual support for survivors of torture from around the world. She has been an inspiration to many people; especially to me as she is my mentor and I always appreciate her insight and excellent ideas.

Wishing you a 2019 rich with effective communication, deep relationships, and meaningful work. Happy New Year!

Léonce Byimana

TASSC International