Healing Through Film: The Refugee Media Project


Across the world, millions are subjected to physical and psychological torture and other forms of politically motivated violence and abuse. Now more than ever, The United States has become a safe escape for these victims of torture. The United States government estimates that over 500,000 immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers in the United States have been victims of politically motivated torture. According to the United States government, these survivors have come to the United States from Africa, Eastern Europe, Latin America, and Southeast Asia. The needs of these torture survivors have become a major issue in the United States.

According to Survivors of Torture International, torture survivors may suffer from lifelong physical and mental health problems including post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, nightmares, chronic pain, and other long-term effects. Even though healthcare and social service professionals have been working to reach out to survivors of torture in the United States, Survivors of Torture International says that many treatment centers struggle to meet the needs of torture survivors who speak many different languages and have complex health and mental health needs.

The Refugee Media Project is a Boston-based organization created by filmmakers, health educators, and human rights activists concerned about the treatment of torture survivors. Project Director Ben Achtenberg says that their goal is “to create resources, both for people who are survivors of torture and people who work for them. Beyond that, it’s to explore issues of torture, impunity and what they mean for our society through video and other media.”

The Refugee Media Project is currently producing a half-hour documentary entitled “Refuge: Caring for Survivors of Torture,” which focuses on treatment and support programs for immigrant torture survivors in the United States. The film aims to increase awareness about the situations of torture survivors, help healthcare providers identify torture survivors among their clients, offer techniques for healthcare providers to use to effectively confront the issues of torture survivors, and motivate clinicians to meet the needs of this growing population.

The Refugee Media Project says the documentary will include interviews with healthcare providers as well as interviews with torture survivors. Torture survivors will be given the opportunity to speak to healthcare providers about their experiences as patients. The Refugee Media Project hopes that these conversations will provide insight on the healthcare needs of the torture survivors and the obstacles that often prevent them from receiving adequate care. The documentary will also speak to healthcare providers about their experiences working with torture survivors, which will identify the challenges they face in providing care. Survivor’s art work, writing and storytelling about their experiences of trauma and recovery will also be featured. As of the spring of 2010, most of the filming for the documentary has been completed.  The film is now going through the editing process, after which it will be released to the public.

The Refugee Media Project has also launched a blog, called “Caring for Survivors of Torture.” The blog serves as a public forum where torture survivors and those who interact with them can talk about their experiences, discuss the problems they face, and develop new strategies for confronting torture and its consequences. Achtenberg updates the blog frequently with current news and resources related to human rights, immigration, and torture, as well as related academic opportunities.

When asked why the issue of torture is significant for everyday Americans, Achtenberg replied, “This is a country of immigrants. At one point, we prided ourselves on being a country that’s welcoming to immigrants like the poem at the bottom of the Statue of Liberty says. Torture is not a new phenomenon…It’s something that Americans culturally should be able to relate to.” The Refugee Media Project is taking a crucial first step in working to evoke this cultural relation in Americans by encouraging them to address the issues of torture and the needs of torture survivors. 


For more information visit:

 http://www.refugemediaproject.org/home.php The Refugee Media Project’s website

http://blog.refugemediaproject.org/ Caring for Survivors of Torture blog


Featured picture was taken from user Sokwanele-Zimbabwe on www.flickr.com which is permitted according to the Creative Commons license. The original picture can be found at http://www.flickr.com/photos/sokwanele/5014002015/