Photo of young refugee

Who Is Afflicted?

According to the United Nations, a refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence. He or she has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. A refugee cannot go home or is afraid to do so.

For survivors of torture, the decision to flee their country is not a choice – it is often the only way to save their own life and that of their family. It’s a decision forced on them by circumstance, under conditions of extreme duress.


It is shocking to associate children with torture. But it is a reality that many young people around the world suffer from oppression, war and violence, both directly and indirectly. Today, children are often a primary target of oppressive regimes – as hostages, as exiles, as child soldiers, or even as political prisoners themselves. According to UNICEF, more than half the world’s refugee population are children.
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At times of conflict and violence, adolescence is no more than an abstract concept. Wars put an early end to childhood. Teenaged boys are forced to join armies and militias, girls are often targets of sexual violence. Nearly all young people end up taking on the kinds of responsibilities that Canadian teenagers can barely conceive of.
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The longer you’ve lived in one culture, the tougher it is to settle into another. Refugees who are seniors have a particularly difficult time adjusting to their new home. And that puts them at higher risk of mental health problems, stress, and anxiety. Having survived torture and travelled to a new country, seniors often find it particularly hard to heal, because they are isolated from nearly everything and everyone they’ve ever known.
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Women are particulary vulnerable at times of conflict. Whether in prison or in their homes, they are in danger of torture in the form of organized rape and other sexual violence. And when men disappear through imprisonment, murder or war, women are often left as sole providers for their children and exended families.
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Anxiety, depression, irritability, paranoia, guilt, suspiciousness, sexual dysfunction, loss of concentration, confusion, insomnia, nightmares, impaired memory, and memory loss. These are some of the long-term psychological effects of torture. Survivors are often unwilling to disclose information about their experiences. They may be suspicious, frightened, or anxious to forget about what’s happened. These feelings may discourage them from seeking the help they need.
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