'Early detection of torture is essential'

 

SUNLIGHT FLOODS into the room on a midsummer’s day in Dublin, where refugee Franky Nyekture rolls up a trouser leg and lifts bandages to reveal his scars. Almost 10 years ago, hot rubber was dripped on his skin after he and 10 other political activists were abducted from a party meeting by “green bombers” – the notorious Zanu-PF militias of Robert Mugabe’s regime.

The dark days of his captivity and torture in Zimbabwe, he says, will never leave him.

“When we were abducted we were taken to disused coal mines. There they started burning our bodies with this rubber from [car tyres].

“They would set it ablaze and it would be dripping on your body . . . until today, it is not gone,” he says.

He says he was kept tied up in the mines for months, and was beaten and tortured. He opens his mouth to show where his teeth were broken.

“It was horrible. I was only praying to God . . . I even accepted openly that, if death comes, I will have to take it.”

Following months in captivity he regained his freedom only because his captors thought him dead after he passed out from the pain. He was discovered by a member of his political party who allowed him to hide in his apartment for a number of months. Eventually the owner of the property, fearing for his own safety, helped arrange for Mr Nyekture to leave the country.

His party colleagues “bought their way through the airport” in order to get him to safety. “All I was thinking about was being taken to safety. That’s all. I didn’t know where I was going to,” he says, adding that he knew nothing about Ireland before arriving here in 2004. On his arrival, he applied for asylum and was successful eight months later, a relatively short period for the granting of refugee status in the Irish system: “They could see I’d passed through hell.”

However, Mr Nyekture, who now lives with his wife and family in Dundalk, says receiving his refugee status did not bring an end to his ordeal. He clicks his fingers six times, each one representing a year he missed of his daughter’s life because of their difficulties in getting permission for his wife and daughter to come to Ireland under the reunification process. “The years I have missed in my daughter’s life I cannot replace,” he says, adding that even after all he had been through, this was very difficult. “I don’t see why I should have been prevented from being with my family.”

Tomorrow Nyekture will be one of the speakers at an event, to be opened by President Michael D Higgins, marking the annual UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.

The event is being organised by the Spiritan Asylum Service Initiative (Spirasi), a non-governmental organisation that works with asylum seekers, refugees and other disadvantaged migrant groups, with special concern for survivors of torture. Each year about 10 per cent of asylum seekers are referred by either doctors or lawyers to the organisation; 170 people were referred to it last year.

Spirasi director Greg Straton says the day marks an opportunity to “highlight the ongoing atrocities happening internationally, and an occasion to acknowledge that rebuilding the life of someone whose dignity has been destroyed is the result of long-term material, medical, psychological and social support”.

“There is a need to realise that the early detection and identification of torture is essential to reducing the anxiety and stress associated with waiting for a decision on an asylum claim . . . over two-thirds of our clients have been in the asylum system over three years, the stress of which hinders recovery and causes its own specific problems,” Mr Straton said.