Former inmate tours Ethiopian torture center after it opens to the public

Visitors use their phone torches inside Maekelawi detention center for political prisoners after it was opened to the public in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia September 6, 2019. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Blogger Befekadu Hailu’s eyes filled with tears as he stood on the spot where he had watched a guard attack a friend in Maekelawi detention center, a name long synonymous in Ethiopia with torture and fear.

Befekadu returned to visit the former police station on Friday as a tourist, not an inmate, after the government opened the building to the public for three days as part of its push towards new democratic freedoms.

“We have to take a lesson from this,” Attorney General Berhanu Tsegaye said at a ceremony at the site. “Human rights violations which took place here should not be repeated.”

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed closed the notorious detention and interrogation center in Addis Ababa last year after he took office pledging an end to “state terrorism”.

Befekadu, 39, was imprisoned there for 84 days without charge in 2014. On Friday morning, he took Reuters to see the damp, dark interrogation rooms.

Prisoners called the frigid underground cells where he was detained “Siberia”.

The center was used by successive rulers, including military dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam and the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), which wrested power from him in 1991.

BEATINGS

Befekadu and other detainees had poked holes in the plaster that filled the metal bars on their cell door. It was meant to stop them from seeing outside.

He said that one day, a policeman noticed him peering out and demanded to know who made the holes. The officer began kicking Befekadu’s fellow prisoner Atnaf.

Befekadu Hailu, 39, an ex-inmate of the Maekelawi detention center for political prisoners is seen as he stands in the room where he was detained after it was opened to the public in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia September 6, 2019. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

Befekadu Hailu, 39, an ex-inmate of the Maekelawi detention center for political prisoners is seen as he stands in the room where he was detained after it was opened to the public in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia September 6, 2019. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

“My friend was beaten here and I couldn’t defend him,” he said, his voice cracking. He searched on Friday for graffiti that prisoners had scrawled, but the wall under his fingers was slick with fresh yellow paint.

In a 2013 report, New York-based Human Rights Watch documented torture at Maekelawi, often used to extract confessions from suspected political opponents.

Guards beat prisoners with gun butts and electric wires and handcuffed victims’ wrists to the ceiling.

That is forbidden now, said Supreme Court president Meaza Ashenafi, a lawyer and women’s rights activist appointed by Abiy last year. The country was changing “from a condition where human rights were violated to a condition where they are now respected”, she said during her visit to the cells on Friday.

Some senior officials implicated in rights abuses have been arrested. The former head of national intelligence has been charged with murder and torture in absentia. Former political prisoners now head the election board and the government-run national human rights commission.

But Laetitia Bader, a senior Human Rights Watch Africa researcher, said more needs to be done to heal past wounds. Most trials have not begun and a reconciliation commission set up in December has an unclear mandate, Bader said.

“The government hasn’t presented a clear roadmap for how it plans to deal with the country’s abusive past,” she said.

Activists continue to be detained, said prominent journalist Eskinder Nega, who was jailed repeatedly on terrorism charges prior to Abiy’s appointment.

Five of his colleagues have been held without charge since June under the anti-terrorism law, he said. The prime minister is new, but the government is still the same ruling coalition, he said.

“This is a classic pretext to crackdown on dissent,” he said. “None of the authoritarian structures have been overhauled.”

(Additional reporting and writing by Maggie Fick; Editing by Katharine Houreld and Frances Kerry)

In Colombia, victims of sexual abuse speak out after peace deal

Lina, who said she was raped by dozens of right-wing paramilitary fighters in the Montes de Maria region during the five-decade civil war, laughs as she puts on a hairband in Soacha, on the outskirts of Bogota, Colombia, June 12, 2018. REUTERS/Nacho Doce

By Nacho Doce and Daniel Flynn

SOACHA, Colombia (Reuters) – Yeimy sobbed with her head in her hands as she described how her husband was tied to a pole, gagged and made to watch as she was raped by four fighters from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) 12 years ago.

Yeimy (C), 37, who was raped by four rebel fighters from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) during the five-decade civil war, holds photographs of herself and her husband Elkin, as she poses with her children at their house in Soacha, on the outskirts of Bogota, Colombia, May 28, 2018. REUTERS/Nacho Doce

Yeimy (C), 37, who was raped by four rebel fighters from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) during the five-decade civil war, holds photographs of herself and her husband Elkin, as she poses with her children at their house in Soacha, on the outskirts of Bogota, Colombia, May 28, 2018. REUTERS/Nacho Doce

Her husband, Elkin, had been abducted by the FARC’s 45th Front in the Tolima region of central Colombia after refusing to pay a revolutionary tax or hand their six-year-old son to the Marxist rebels to become part of the armed group, Yeimy said.

After trekking through the jungle for days to find the rebel camp, Yeimy pleaded for her husband’s release but the FARC commander, known by the nom de guerre Pepito, demanded a terrible price, she said.

“He told me, ‘I will pick four of my men and they can do what they want with you’,” said the 37-year-old, who asked that her family name not be used.

After securing a deal for the release of her husband, Yeimy fled with her family to Soacha, near Colombia’s capital Bogota, which is home to tens of thousands displaced by the conflict.

But two years later the rebels who had kidnapped Yeimy’s husband found them, claiming the couple still owed FARC the so-called revolutionary tax. Yeimy said they took away her husband and shot him.

Yeimy is one of hundreds of women who has come forward to talk to victims groups about their alleged sexual abuse during Colombia’s five decades of civil war. After a 2016 peace deal with the FARC the government set up a Special Peace Tribunal (JEP) to try crimes committed by all sides in the conflict.

Yeimy has started therapy sessions with a psychologist to overcome her fear so she can testify before a public defender, said Sonia Tarquino, who runs a victims program in Soacha.

Lina, who said she was raped by dozens of right-wing paramilitary fighters in the Montes de Maria region during the five-decade civil war, shows the picture of her son Over on the mobile phone inside her house in Soacha, on the outskirts of Bogota, Colombia, May 28, 2018. . REUTERS/Nacho Doce

Lina, who said she was raped by dozens of right-wing paramilitary fighters in the Montes de Maria region during the five-decade civil war, shows the picture of her son Over on the mobile phone inside her house in Soacha, on the outskirts of Bogota, Colombia, May 28, 2018. . REUTERS/Nacho Doce

Reuters has not been able to verify Yeimy’s account independently. FARC spokesman declined to comment on individual allegations of war crimes since the peace deal, saying these cases will be heard by the JEP.

But last month, three victims associations delivered 2,000 documented cases of sexual abuse to the JEP.

The tribunal’s president, Patricia Linares, has said those responsible would not be allowed to escape justice, but would be eligible to receive non-jail sentences if they came clean about the crimes.

Colombia’s National Centre for Historical Memory estimates 15,687 people were victims of sexual violence during the conflict, at the hands of right-wing paramilitary groups, security forces and the guerrillas.

Armed groups used sexual violence, including gang rape, to instill fear in communities, as a way of imposing their control over an area and as a form of punishment, rights groups have said.

The 2016 peace deal between the Colombian government and the FARC guarantees non-jail sentences for crimes related to the conflict, provided those responsible fully admit their wrongdoing and tell the truth about what happened. It also furnishes rebels who disarm with lodging and a monthly stipend.

The terms of the accord frustrated many Colombians and it was rejected in a referendum before a modified version was approved by Congress.

 

IMPLEMENTING THE PEACE DEAL

Colombia’s right-wing President Ivan Duque, who took office in August, has promised to toughen the terms of the peace deal and make FARC commanders pay for crimes with prison time. He has said those guilty of rape should not be provided with special treatment under the deal.

Yet Duque faces a challenge to overhaul the accord as most parties in Congress support it and the constitutional court has also ruled that the terms of the pact cannot be altered for three presidential terms.

Former President Juan Manuel Santos, who signed the deal with the FARC, told Reuters in an interview in July that most Colombians wanted it implemented to turn the page on the conflict.

Duque has pledged not to do anything that would derail the accord as his government seeks to restore peace but a presidency spokesman said that he would continue to press for rapists to not receive amnesty.

Yet, with large areas of Colombia still prey to armed groups including dissident FARC fighters, Mexican-backed drug gangs, and the ELN leftist rebel group, some Colombians say they fear that tampering with the peace process could drive more former rebels to take up arms again.

More than 7 million people, nearly one sixth of the population, remain displaced by violence in Colombia after decades of internal conflict, according to government figures.

ABUSE BY PARAMILITARY AS WELL AS FARC

Tarquino, who runs the victims program in Soacha, has been holding meetings for women abused during the conflict for four years. Many of the women have, like Yeimy, had family members killed by the FARC rebels or right-wing paramilitary fighters.

Lina, who is now 49 and asked not to reveal her family name, said she was sexually assaulted 22 years ago in northern Colombia by paramilitaries belonging to the Heroes of the Montes de Maria group.

When she refused to take any more, the men sexually abused her using a tent pole, Lina said.

The paramilitary groups, which continued to operate in many parts of Colombia despite a 2006 peace deal, were founded by landowners to protect themselves from rebels but quickly turned to drug trafficking and violence.

Lina’s home province of Sucre was involved in a scandal that erupted in 2006 over ties between paramilitary fighters and local politicians that resulted in the arrest of several congressmen.

“The doctors were named by them. The mayor was appointed by them,” said Lina. “I had to put on a mask to hide the pain that I felt from my child. After 22 years, I can finally declare the facts to the competent authorities.”

Colombia’s government provides compensation to victims of sexual violence, including rape, under a 2011 law.

Lina has given testimony to a public defender and has been classified as a victim but has not yet received any compensation. Her case document, reviewed by Reuters, recognizes she suffered sexual violence, torture and personal injury.

Lina took part in a secret meeting this year with former paramilitaries, including one of the men who abused her, in which they asked forgiveness. Reuters reviewed a video of the meeting but Lina asked not to reveal its location nor the identity of the men.

“We as women have to forgive because we cannot live with this anger inside us,”said Lina.

Click on https://reut.rs/2xl3PY6

(Reporting by Daniel Flynn; editing by Diane Craft and Clive McKeef)

Mexican truck drivers travel in fear as highway robberies bleed economy

Trailers are pictured on the Mexico-Puebla highway, on the outskirts of Mexico City, Mexico, March 8, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

By Noe Torres and Lizbeth Diaz

PUEBLA, Mexico (Reuters) – Glancing constantly at his rear view mirror, truck driver “El Flaco” journeys the highways of Mexico haunted by the memory of when he was kidnapped with his security detail by bandits disguised as police officers two years ago.

Back then, El Flaco, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, was beaten, blindfolded and taken to a house near Mexico City where his captors threatened to kill him. Three days later he managed to escape and flee.

Today he travels with a machete and a satellite tracking device in his cab that can pinpoint him in emergencies.

Truckers covering Mexico’s vast territory often move in convoys to reduce the risk of robberies, which in 2017 almost doubled to nearly 3,000. Some drive with armed escorts traveling alongside them. Others remove the logos from their trucks.

Signs that read "Protected via satellite" are pictured on the side of a trailer on the Mexico-Puebla highway, on the outskirts of Mexico City, Mexico, March 8, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

Signs that read “Protected via satellite” are pictured on the side of a trailer on the Mexico-Puebla highway, on the outskirts of Mexico City, Mexico, March 8, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

Companies like brewer Grupo Modelo, a unit of AB InBev , and the Mexican subsidiary of South Korea’s LG Electronics have stepped up efforts to protect their drivers, deploying sophisticated geo-location technology and increasing communication with authorities.

The problem is part of a wider Latin American scourge of highway robbery that acts as a further drag on a region long held back by sub-par infrastructure.

“Roads are getting more and more dangerous, you try not to stop,” the 50-year-old El Flaco said, as he drove in the central state of Puebla, the epicenter of highway freight theft.

“Since I was kidnapped, I’ve gotten into the habit of looking in the mirror, checking car number plates, looking at who’s gone past me,” he added. “I look at everything.”

On the most dangerous roads, like those connecting Mexico City with major ports on the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific, it is almost certain that one in every two truckers will be held up, a study by U.S.-based security firm Sensitech showed.

While no official data on losses exist, insurers paid out almost $100 million in 2016 to crime-hit cargo operators, up 4.5 percent on 2015, Mexican insurance association AMIS says.

The true sum is likely far higher: only one in three loads is insured due to the cost, according to industry estimates.

More than 80 percent of goods are transported by road and rail in Mexico, and the thefts are hurting competitiveness at a time the country is seeking to diversify trade and tap new sources of business.

Fuels, food and beverages, building materials, chemicals, electronic goods, auto parts and clothing are all top targets, Sensitech said.

COMPETITION SQUEEZE

Upon taking office in December 2012, President Enrique Pena Nieto promised to get a grip on gang violence and lawlessness. But after some initial progress, the situation deteriorated and murders hit their highest level on record last year.

Highway robberies of trucks fell through 2014. But they almost doubled in 2015 to 985, hit 1,587 in 2016 and reached 2,944 last year.

The government has responded by stepping up police patrols in affected areas and lengthening prison sentences for freight robbery to 15 years.

But robberies are still rising and most are not even reported due to the arduous bureaucratic process involved, Sensitech says.

“It’s hurting productivity and competitiveness,” said Leonardo Gomez, who heads a transportation national industry body.

Some drivers are armoring cabs in trucks made by companies like U.S. firm Kenworth, an expensive move that still only covers a tiny fraction of the almost 11 million trucks crisscrossing Latin America’s second-largest economy.

Last year, 53 trucks were armored against high-caliber weapons, up 40 percent from 2016, according to the Mexican Association of Automotive Armorers.

Attacks are not confined to roads. Some 1,752 robberies were recorded on railways last year, official data show.

Criminals have also become more sophisticated.

They are turning to high-caliber weapons and employ devices to block Global Positioning Systems (GPS) to prevent trucks communicating their whereabouts, experts say.

Previously, companies that suffered robberies were generally able to recover their vehicles. Not any more.

“It’s not just the goods they want, it’s the trucks too,” said Carlos Jimenez of Mexican insurance association AMIS.

(Reporting by Noe Torres and Lizbeth Diaz, Writing by Dave Graham, Editing by Christian Plumb and Rosalba O’Brien)

Myanmar not ready for return of Rohingya Muslims, says UNHCR

FILE PHOTO: A Rohingya refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, September 19, 2017. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton/File Photo

By Serajul Quadir

DHAKA (Reuters) – The U.N. refugee agency called a Myanmar minister’s visit to Bangladesh to meet Muslim Rohingya refugees a confidence-building measure, but said conditions in Myanmar were not ready for their return.

Myanmar Social Welfare Minister Win Myat Aye, who heads rehabilitation efforts in Myanmar’s troubled western Rakhine state, told about 50 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh on Wednesday that getting the repatriation process moving was top priority.

But the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said on Thursday Myanmar was not prepared.

“Conditions in Myanmar are not yet conducive for the voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable return of refugees,” it said in a statement, adding that the responsibility remains with the government to create such conditions.

According to U.N. officials, nearly 700,000 Rohingya have fled into Bangladesh from Rakhine to escape a military crackdown since August, amid reports of murder, rape and arson by Myanmar troops and Buddhist vigilantes which the United Nations has likened to “ethnic cleansing”.

Buddhist-majority Myanmar rejects the charge, saying its security forces launched a legitimate counter-insurgency operation on Aug. 25 in response to Rohingya militant attacks.

The refugees are living in cramped camps in the port of Cox’s Bazar and Bangladesh is keen for them to return home soon, especially with the oncoming monsoons expected to cause major devastation at the camps.

The UNHCR called on Myanmar to provide the agency unhindered access in Rakhine to assess the situation and monitor the return and reintegration of refugees if and when they voluntarily return.

Acknowledging the mistrust and fear of the Rohingya of Myanmar, Win Myat Aye told the group of refugees on Wednesday to set aside the past and to prepare to go back, promising new villages would be built with hospitals and schools.

But some refugees have said they are worried about going back, fearing persecution.

(Reporting by Serajul Quadir; Writing by Euan Rocha; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Afghan Shi’ites fear further attacks on Ashura celebrations

File Photo - Afghan security forces inspect at the site of a suicide attack near a large Shi'ite mosque, Kabul, Afghanistan. September 29, 2017. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani

KABUL (Reuters) – The Afghan capital Kabul braced on Saturday for further possible attacks ahead of Ashura, the holiest day on the Shi’ite Muslim calendar, a day after an attack claimed by Islamic State that killed at least five people near a large Shi’ite mosque.

Ahead of the celebration on Sunday, signs of increased security were in evidence across Kabul, with extra police checkpoints and roadblocks in many areas, while security was also increased in other cities.

Afghanistan, a majority Sunni Muslim country, has traditionally not suffered the sectarian violence that has devastated countries like Iraq, but a series of attacks over recent years have targeted the Shi’ite community.

“We are concerned about this. We had internal fighting in the past but never religious fighting,” said Arif Rahmani, a member of parliament and a member of the mainly Shi’ite Hazara community that has been particularly targeted.

The government has provided some basic training and weapons for a few hundred volunteer guards near mosques and other meeting places but many fear that the protection, which covers only some of the city’s more than 400 Shi’ite mosques, is insufficient.

In 2011, more than 80 people were killed in Ashura attacks in Kabul and the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif and there have been a string of others since, with 20 people killed in a suicide attack on a mosque in Kabul a month ago.

Friday’s attack, by suicide bombers posing as shepherds walking their sheep along a road outside the Hussainya mosque in the Qala-e-Fatehullah area of the city, did not reach the mosque itself but wounded 20 people in addition to the five killed.

No up-to-date census data exists for Afghanistan but different estimates put the size of the Shi’ite community at between 10-20 percent of the population, mostly Persian-speaking Tajiks and Hazaras.

Ashura, on the 10th day of the month of Muharram, celebrates the martyrdom of Hussein, one of the grandsons of the Prophet Mohammad, and is marked by large public commemorations by Shi’ite Muslims.

President Ashraf Ghani condemned Friday’s attack and said it would not break the unity between religions in Afghanistan.

But at a time when rivalry between the patchwork of different ethnic groups in the country has increasingly come into the open, Rahmani said the evident objective of the attacks was to ratchet up the tensions to create instability.

“In the past, there were warnings that there were groups that wanted to stir ethnic and religious conflict among Afghans but now it is reality,” Rahmani said. “There are people who want to create disunity among ethnic and religious groups,” he said.

(Reporting by Mirwais Harooni and James Mackenzie; Editing by Richard Pullin)

Signs of the time: Fake U.S. immigration control posters found in Washington

Fake government flyers urging Washington residents to turn in illegal immigrants, which city and federal officials denounced as inciting fear, are posted in Washington, U.S. June 1, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

By Ian Simpson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Residents of at least one Washington D.C. neighborhood woke up on Thursday to find the area plastered with posters urging them to turn in illegal immigrants, but federal authorities denied putting up the signs and denounced them as inciting fear.

The bogus posters bearing the seal of the Department of Homeland Security warned about criminal offenses related to harboring or helping people in the country illegally, and gave phone numbers to report information about them to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

“If you see something, say something,” said the flyer, titled “Sanctuary City Neighborhood Public Notice” and written on the ICE letterhead.

Washington is among dozens of so-called sanctuary cities that offer safe haven to illegal immigrants, and local police are under orders not to cooperate with federal authorities seeking to deport residents. An attempt by the administration of President Donald Trump to cut off federal funds to sanctuary cities has been blocked by a court.

Mayor Muriel Bowser said on Twitter that the posters were aimed at scaring residents of the heavily Democratic city and that she had ordered police and the Public Works Department to remove them.

“Tear it down! DC is a sanctuary city,” she said.

Carissa Cutrell, an ICE spokeswoman, said the agency had not put up the posters and called them dangerous and irresponsible.

“Any person who actively incites panic or fear of law enforcement is doing a disservice to the community, endangering public safety and the very people they claim to support and represent,” she said in an email.

Cutrell said she had no information about who might have put up the posters or whether the number of telephone calls to her agency had increased.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson in Washington and by Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Most Germans fear terrorist attack after train ax assault: poll

German emergency services

BERLIN (Reuters) – More than three-quarters of Germans believe their country will soon be the target of terrorism, a survey showed on Friday, after a 17-year-old asylum-seeker wounded passengers on a train in an ax attack claimed by Islamic State.

Seventy-seven percent expect an attack to happen soon, up from 69 percent two weeks ago, according to the survey compiled by Forschungsgruppe Wahlen for broadcaster ZDF.

Bavarian police shot dead the teenager after he wounded four people from Hong Kong on the train and injured a local resident while fleeing.

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said investigations suggested he was a “lone wolf” who had been spurred into action by Islamic State propaganda.

The ax rampage came days after a Tunisian drove a truck into crowds celebrating Bastille Day in the French city of Nice, killing 84 in an attack also claimed by the jihadist group.

German Justice Minister Heiko Maas told Bild newspaper’s Friday edition that there was “no reason to panic but it’s clear that Germany remains a possible target”.

The survey of 1,271 respondents, which showed 20 percent do not expect an attack soon, was conducted during the three days following the train attack.

It also showed 59 percent think enough is being done to protect them from terrorism – almost twice as many as think they should be better protected.

(Reporting by Michelle Martin; editing by John Stonestreet)

Managing mental health for refugees in Greece. ‘People need time to mourn’

A migrant waits for transport at a transit camp in Gevgelija, Macedonia, after entering the country by crossing the border with Greece, November 4, 2015

DAKAR (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Sam* is a Syrian mental health and psychosocial support trainer for the International Medical Corps in Greece.

“There is no such thing as an average day in my role as a psychosocial support trainer in the ever-changing and chaotic environment that Greece has become.

But my story begins like that of many others – fleeing my home in Syria to seek a better future in Europe.

Already having been detained and tortured twice for humanitarian work in Syria and fearing for my safety, I fled to Turkey in hope of being able to continue helping others.

Unfortunately I found that having fled from Syria and having a degree in international relations and vast experience of working with various NGOs does not guarantee asylum.

Stateless, I eventually left Turkey to cross the Mediterranean to Greece – a crossing that has already taken more than 400 lives this year alone.

For me, the worst part was hiding. Like every other Syrian refugee, I was only looking for safety – and yet I spent two months hiding, jumping at the sight of small animals, terrified of meeting another person.

We made it to Serbia, but things only got worse from there. Somebody overheard me and my companion speaking Arabic at a bus stop in Belgrade, and at 2am the next day we were kidnapped.

For a day these people, who I was convinced were under the influence of drugs, tortured us in every way they could imagine.

When the effects wore off they realized what they were doing and fled, abandoning us to find our way to the nearest hospital.

I did make it to Austria eventually, and then to the Netherlands where I was finally granted asylum.

However my journey was far from over.

BATTLEGROUND

“I have always felt the need to help people, and as Syrians continued risking their lives trying to find sanctuary in Europe, I knew exactly where I belonged.

As soon as I got my documents I applied for jobs with NGOs helping Syrian refugees, and left the Netherlands for Greece.

I go from island to island, training people in psychological first aid and supporting those providing psychosocial services.

It’s chaotic. Things change every day and it is difficult to predict what lies in store for these people.

Military hotspots have been popping up all over the country, making it ever more difficult for NGOs to access those who need our help the most. Many of these hotspots lack sanitation facilities and drinking water.

There is no war in Greece, but to me it is a battleground all the same.

TIME TO MOURN

“Everybody wants to help, but they don’t know that good intentions sometimes do more harm than good when it comes to mental health.

That’s what I am here for – to make sure that the mental health programs are adapted to fit the cultural context.

In Europe, it is acceptable to help somebody get over their grief by distracting them or trying to cheer them up.

But in my culture ignoring grief is considered shameful – we need time to mourn. The people getting off the boats in Greece – traumatized by the journey, homesick and often separated from their friends and families – are rarely given that time.

Being both a Syrian refugee and a mental health worker, I understand why people might fear refugees coming into Europe.

It’s the same fear I experienced on my own journey all that time ago – the fear of the unknown. Even if one single person stops being afraid, I will know I have done my job.”

*Sam asked to omit his surname for safety reasons.

This aid worker profile is one of five commissioned by the Thomson Reuters Foundation ahead of the first ever World Humanitarian Summit on the biggest issues affecting the humanitarian response to disasters and conflict.

For more on the World Humanitarian Summit, please visit: http://news.trust.org/spotlight/reshape-aid

(Editing by Kieran Guilbert and Katie Nguyen; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)

Many Americans Believe In Torture

Guantanamo detainee's feet are shackled to the floor

By Chris Kahn

(Reuters) – Nearly two-thirds of Americans believe torture can be justified to extract information from suspected terrorists, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll, a level of support similar to that seen in countries like Nigeria where militant attacks are common.

The poll reflects a U.S. public on edge after the massacre of 14 people in San Bernardino in December and large-scale attacks in Europe in recent months, including a bombing claimed by the militant group Islamic State last week that killed at least 32 people in Belgium.

Donald Trump, the front-runner for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, has forcefully injected the issue of whether terrorism suspects should be tortured into the election campaign.

Trump has said he would seek to roll back President Barack Obama’s ban on waterboarding – an interrogation technique that simulates drowning that human rights groups contend is illegal under the Geneva Conventions. Trump has also vowed to “bring back a hell of a lot worse” if elected.

Trump’s stance has drawn broad criticism from human rights organizations, world bodies, and political rivals. But the poll findings suggest that many Americans are aligned with Trump on the issue, although the survey did not ask respondents to define what they consider torture.

“The public right now is coping with a host of negative emotions,” said Elizabeth Zechmeister, a Vanderbilt University professor who has studied the link between terrorist threats and public opinion. “Fear, anger, general anxiety: (Trump) gives a certain credibility to these feelings,” she said.

The March 22-28 online poll asked respondents if torture can be justified “against suspected terrorists to obtain information about terrorism.” About 25 percent said it is “often” justified while another 38 percent it is “sometimes” justified. Only 15 percent said torture should never be used.

Republicans were more accepting of torture to elicit information than Democrats: 82 percent of Republicans said torture is “often” or “sometimes” justified, compared with 53 percent of Democrats. (Graphic: http://tmsnrt.rs/1ShObx1)

About two-thirds of respondents also said they expected a terrorist attack on U.S. soil within the next six months.

TERRORISM TOP CONCERN

Surveys by other polling agencies in recent years have shown U.S. support for the use of torture at around 50 percent. A 2014 survey by Amnesty International, for example, put American support for torture at about 45 percent, compared with 64 percent in Nigeria, 66 percent in Kenya and 74 percent in India.

Nigeria is battling a seven-year-old insurgency that has displaced 2 million people and killed thousands, while al Shabaab militants have launched a series of deadly attacks in Kenya. India is fighting a years-old Maoist insurgency that has killed hundreds.

In November, terrorism replaced economy as the top concern for many Americans in Reuters/Ipsos polling, shortly after militants affiliated with the Islamic State killed 130 people in Paris. (Graphic: http://polling.reuters.com/#!poll/SC8/type/smallest/dates/20151101-20151231/collapsed/true/spotlight/1)

At the same time, Trump surged in popularity among Republicans, who viewed him as the strongest candidate to deal with terrorism. Besides his advocacy of waterboarding, Trump said that he would “bomb the hell out of ISIS,” using an alternative acronym for Islamic State.

“You’re dealing with people who don’t play by any rules. And I can’t see why we would tie our hands and take away options like waterboarding,” said Jo Ann Tieken, 71, a Trump supporter.

Tieken said her views had been influenced by the injuries suffered by her two step-grandsons while serving in the military four years ago in Afghanistan.

The Reuters/Ipsos poll included 1,976 people. It has a credibility interval, a measure of accuracy, of 2.5 percentage points for the entire group and about 4 percentage points for both Democrats and Republicans. (Graphic: http://reut.rs/1Rp3x6C)

(Reporting by Chris Kahn; Editing by Richard Valdmanis and Ross Colvin)

All Fun and Games Until the Darkness Begins (Pt. 4)

Caught in a nightmare of fear, the days and weeks went by as I struggled to break out of the darkness. My friends knew something was up. I’m a big dude and I wasn’t eating. Something was wrong with me. I was like a zombie. My Mom would have to make my lunch. I didn’t want to wait in line at school, I just wanted to go off and eat on my own. Every morning she would give me a little sack lunch with a sandwich in it. She kept asking if I was sure that I only wanted one sandwich. At best, I would only eat half of it. For some little girl, that might be normal but that definitely was not normal for me.

I knew my friends were talking about me. I did my best to talk and laugh like I was fine, but my eyes would show it. I would say, “I’m fine guys, I’m fine, I’m cool.” But I wasn’t. I wasn’t fine at all. Continue reading