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Local Coalition 'in the Business of Cleaning Up after Warfare'

Northwest Health and Human Rights Project
This photo shows clients who've benefitted from the coalition.

Decades have passed since the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration on Human Rights back in 1948. But even as the world prepares to celebrate Human Rights Day on Tuesday, slavery, oppression and torture remain very real problems.

In Seattle, one local coalition aims to restore the dignity and health of people from all over the world whose rights have been violated. The Northwest Health and Human Rights Project provides help for torture victims in King County.

Doctor Cary Jackson, who heads up the International Medical Clinic at Harborview Medical Center, has seen patients with crushed tracheas, head trauma, untreated knife wounds and broken arms and legs that were never properly reset. One patient required an amputation.

“What we are in the business of is cleaning up after warfare,” Jackson said.

All of these cases involved refugees and asylum seekers who were tortured in their native countries, and were looking to start a new life in the U.S.

“You name the conflict: Bosnia, Sudan, Kosovo, Ethiopia, Somalia,” said Jackson. “What happens is when people come here and they begin to rebuild their lives, they are incredibly successful with that. But they carry some of the scars, whether they’re physical or mental, and [we] help them manage those as they rebuild their lives.”

The International Medical Clinic, along with the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project and Lutheran Community Services Northwest, are working together to serve this population.

The group now has a $300,000 federal grant, which will pay for a full-time immigration lawyer and medical care for more patients. The coalition served more than 200 people in the past year.

Beth Farmer, a social worker with Lutheran Community Services Northwest, says case workers are constantly amazed by their clients.

“I often think if these things had happened to me, I don’t know if I would be able to smile, work three jobs and invest in a family. And they do all of these things,” Farmer said.

Jackson said a current patient of his exemplifies this resilience. The asylum seeker is from the Ivory Coast, he said. He fled the country after being tortured with electricity.

Hungry to work and earn money to bring his family to the U.S., Jackson said his patient traveled from Brooklyn, New York to Seattle where he got help at Harborview, then went up to Alaska to work in the fishing industry.

Jennifer Wing is a former KNKX reporter and producer who worked on the show Sound Effect and Transmission podcast.