Support group for torture victims appeals for financial aid

Spirasi ‘in urgent need’ of specialist therapists to ensure State meets legal obligations

Torture victim Daniel Kabongo said Spirasi saved him from a serious mental breakdown and even suicide. Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy

Torture victim Daniel Kabongo said Spirasi saved him from a serious mental breakdown and even suicide. Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy

 

The only organisation dedicated to supporting victims of torture says it is “in urgent need” of specialist therapists to ensure Ireland meets its international legal obligations.

Spirasi, which provides medical, psychological, legal and social supports to torture victims is appealing for “increased financial support” amid fears not all of those legally entitled to its services get them.

The organisation said it exists with a constant fear of having to close or reduce services, despite Ireland being a signatory of the UN Convention against Torture (UNCAT). Article 14 mandates signatory states to ensure victims of torture have access to “the means for as full rehabilitation as possible”.

The appeal comes as Ireland marks International Day in Support of Victims of Torture on Saturday. Spirasi was founded by the Spiritans (Irish Province) in 1999 as a welcoming services for newly-arrived asylum seekers.

In response to the clear trauma suffered by many attending their English-language classes, the order soon established specialist services for survivors of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. The classes continued as part of their clients’ rehabilitation. The charity remains the sole, independent organisation with an expertise in recognising and addressing torture.

Director Rory Halpin said in 2020 Spirasi supported 567 people who were mainly asylum seekers and refugees. International research suggests between 30 and 50 per cent of asylum seekers have been tortured. In 2019, a total of 4,781 people sought refuge in the State, so it is feared many victims are not getting the supports they need and are entitled to.

Survivors

“Our service is located in Dublin, while many survivors of torture are located throughout the country. In the last two years we have begun to set up regional hubs with a psychotherapist available for one day a week in each of Galway, Limerick, Cork and Waterford, ” says Mr Halpin.

However, in recent weeks the Cork weekly outreach clinic faced closure as its benefactor had intended ending its support in June. This has been extended for another year only.

Among those helped by Spirasi was Daniel Kabongo who was arrested and tortured for his investigative journalism in Africa. He said Spirasi saved him from a serious mental breakdown and even suicide. He was referred by his GP after breaking down several times when asked how he sustained deep scars on his legs, body and back.

“I was so confused, so depressed, fatigued most of the time,” said Mr Kabongo. “I thought it was the end of my life. Even though I was in Ireland I thought I was by myself and there was no need for me to live anymore. I could do anything to myself, I could end my life. These things I was meditating every day. Spirasi helped me get rid of that. They tell me that was then, it is not now. ‘You are safe now’.”

He has lived in Ireland for four years and was recognised as a refugee last year. His wife and children have been reunited with him, and they too have received counselling for assaults. They have settled in Co Mayo where he is setting up a business. “I am so grateful to Spirasi for all they are doing for so many people,” said Mr Kabongo.

Waiting lists

Mr Halpin describes Spirasi as a “small organisation” and as such “waiting lists are long – from three months to a year depending on the particular service”.

“We have an urgent need for regional therapists. As well as our Dublin therapists, we have a therapist in Limerick and Cork. There is a need for increased psychosocial support and medical doctors.

“Increased financial support would support our general growth programme, secure our befriending scheme, clinical services and education programme. This would also enable us to regionalise our services so that we could open clinics in under-resourced areas so we can really get to the people we want to reach.”

The HSE did not provide a comment. Other funders include the Department of Children and Integration, City of Dublin Education and Training Board, Tusla, United Nations, Community Foundation of Ireland, Daughters of Charity and the Spiritans.