There are approximately 41,000 Eritreans seeking asylum in Israel, after fleeing their homelands to escape one of the World's harshest dictatorships. Human Rights Organizations estimate that about 7,000 of these Eritreans suffered in the hands of the Rashaida tribe in underground torture camps in the Sinai desert, where they underwent severe physical, psychological, sexual and economic abuse, including beating, burning, organ harvesting, rape, chaining, hanging, starvation, sleep deprivation and electric shocks.
In addition to the serious trauma from torture, the current policies for asylum seekers result in a lack of rights, especially in the areas of health and welfare .
The program for survivors of torture and human trafficking at ASSAF (Aid Organization for Asylum Seekers and Refugees), together with Israeli Psychologist Dr. Daniel Hamiel, adapted Cohen Harris' Resilience Center's post-trauma "Resilience Method" to our specific context, implementing a gender-sensitive pilot support group for for survivors of torture from Sinai.
The idea behind this method is not to process the trauma directly within the group, but to deal with the experience of loss of control which is common in post traumatic states, and to support moving from "survival mode" towards re-gaining control of life. The following elements build the base for the program and are taught to the participants:
- Letters by an imaginary person in the same situation used throughout the session, describing his experiences and challenges.
- Use of balancing techniques such as "Meta Control" , re-development of coping skills and enhancement of executive functions (focusing, self care, planning, etc.).
- Group facilitation of mutual support.
- Psycho-educational lectures.
- Invitation to write in a personal diary.
Support groups take place once a week for 1.5 hours, over a period of 10 weeks. Groups are facilitated by a professional therapist with a trained cultural facilitator.
There have been four pilot groups for men and five groups for women, with a total of over 90 participants.
Evaluation through narrative reports and questionnaires show important differences between the genders, supporting the method of gender specific groups and confirming social and cultural norms of Eritrean society. While everyone mentioned an appreciation of the "safe space" of the group, men show great difficulty sharing their experiences and express a desire to learn more "concrete" tools , rather than to discuss emotions and abstract concepts. Women expressed overall that they greatly valued the opportunity to speak freely about their experiences, as well as enjoying more abstract activities such as art and breathing exercises. In the initial groups, women expressed a need for more sessions, to share their personal stories, which was successfully incorporated further groups, now consisting of 15 sessions. In each new pilot, we attempt to incorporate this feedback.
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