Ten years of Survivors Speak OUT – survivors' asks on International Day in Support of Victims of Torture

Post by Kolbassia Haoussou

Ten years ago I joined with a few others to found a new network for torture survivors – all people who have survived detention and torture and sought asylum in the UK. We decided to call ourselves Survivors Speak OUT – a name we proudly retain today.

Our members come from different backgrounds and countries but we have all been clients of Freedom from Torture, where we received therapeutic, legal and practical support to put our shattered bodies and lives back together again. Some of us have gained asylum and citizenship in this country; others are still making their way through the complex “hostile environment” that is the UK asylum system. 

Members of our network of men and women have now spoken out hundreds of times - from educating young people in schools and supporting other survivors around the world, to advocating at the UN and feeding into Home Office training.

Today, Tuesday 26 June, is the UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. For most people it means little but for members of Survivors Speak OUT (SSO) it is an opportunity to highlight our experiences and press our demands for change. It is not about reciting our experiences of torture – the memories will always be with us - but to use our voices to demand recognition and fair treatment.

In particular, this tenth anniversary presents a unique opportunity to present our demands to improve the perilous journey from damaged torture survivor to a full member of society. 

1. Policy-makers to work together with survivors of torture

  • Policy and practice to be meaningfully informed by torture survivors – who are experts by experience.
  • More survivor-led networks around the world, trained to participate in the decisions affecting them.

2. A more humane and responsive asylum system

  • A commitment to identify torture survivors at the earliest opportunity so that safeguards can be effective.
  • Survivors of torture to not be detained for immigration purposes under any circumstances.
  • Asylum applicants to have access to adequate healthcare, legal advice, financial support and accommodation.
  • An advisory panel with former asylum applicants to inform and improve the Home Office’s policy and practice.

3. Increased investment in rehabilitation and integration

  • Greater access to education and employment, and recognition of previous skills and qualifications, so that survivors can better integrate in and contribute to the UK.

 

You can view the video with our key messages here:

And hear more about my journey from torture to detention in the UK to speaking out here:

And hear a special message from Jeremy Corbyn MP here:

Survivors Speak OUT's journey

It’s saddening that SSO’s work is necessary, but it’s heartening for me that, ten years on, we’re still here - with a powerful collective voice. At the beginning, we found it difficult to find ways to speak out – our model, putting forward the survivor voice as the expert, was unique, and survivors needed to support to find their voices and dare speak out.

Our involvement with the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative, where I shared a platform with Angelina Jolie and William Hague, really got us noticed by not only policymakers and influencers, but by survivors too. They now approach us and want to speak out too, and we’re in touch with survivors around the world, from Columbia to Bosnia.

Members of our network of men and women have now spoken out hundreds of times - from educating young people in schools and supporting other survivors around the world, to advocating at the UN and feeding into Home Office training.

Finally, we remember that torture continues worldwide - although the UN Convention Against Torture came into force 31 years ago and now has now has 163 signatories, torture remains endemic worldwide. As we mark SSO’s ten year birthday, we look ahead to strengthening and continuing our work to influence policy makers, support survivors of torture and fight for a world free from torture.

Kolbassia Haoussou is one of the co-founders and the co-ordinator of Survivors Speak OUT, a network of torture survivor activists in the UK, supported by Freedom from Torture.  

Read about SSO's 10th-anniversary parliamentary celebration here