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Voices of Young Survivors

May 11, 2011

Young Survivors’ Odysseys of Escape
and Survival – in Their Own Words

Freedom from Torture – until recently the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture – has been serving torture survivors in Britain and Scotland for more than a quarter of a century. It is marking Our Year, Our Voice, the United Nations’ International Year of Youth, by giving some of its young clients the opportunity to tell their own stories of escape and survival. Five of those stories are available on the group’s website.
            Said is a talented young artist with a devastating story of travelling with an abusive guide – mostly by foot, boat and horseback – from Afghanistan via Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Bulgaria, Italy, France, and finally to Britain. Of the guide, or agent, he writes, “I was their property and I was young. I had heard terrible stories about agents doing awful things to young people.” After falling off his horse and being dragged until he passed out, he wakes up:

The agent was asked if he could get a doctor. He said, “This journey has not got a doctor, if you die, you die.” Other people tried to give me some of their clothes but nobody was able to give me shoes. The agent said, “Either you stay here or walk barefoot in the snow to the car.” So that is what I did. I began walking barefoot through the snow in the evening and arrived at the car the following morning. I could not feel my feet after that; they were numb, my nails were bruised and the rest of my feet badly blistered…Maybe ten to fifteen days went by where I had to wear shoes that were too big and wet. Days later, when they tried to take the shoes off, the socks I had on were glued to my skin. They had to be peeled off. When they did come off, so did my skin. Even now, years later, I still have problems with my feet. They get really painful in winter and I always buy shoes a size too big.

There’s also the story of Ehsan, another boy who tried to help him out on the journey. After arriving in Britain, the two lost touch. Said writes, “He helped me through very bad times. I remember that just before we arrived in Dover, he gave me a tube of toothpaste with a $20 note inside it. He told me to hold on to it and if I ever needed help or to make a phone call, $20 may help. The agents took it from me though – they did not want any traces left of our journey. I hope Ehsan reads this and that one day we’ll meet again.”
            About the first picture, above, Said writes:  “The picture is of a woman, maybe my mum, trying to climb to the moon where she thinks life will be better. My mum thinks I’m living in harmony but she does not know that I’m not, and I can’t tell her – I don’t know what happened to her.” The second painting carries the wistful note, “When I’m an old man, I’d love to have my own house in the country. I’d sit and watch the sunset through the mountains.”
            Read the rest of Said’s story, and those of four other young people, on Freedom from Torture’s website. Our Year, Our Voice, the United Nations’ International Year of Youth, continues through August 12, 2011.

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