This blog is written by Miguel de la Huerga Rojo, Former Fenix Protection Assistant, about his experience working with Fenix.
When covering the topic of human rights protection and reparation during my academic studies, it all sounded highly abstract and broad. I found it hard to imagine how these concepts could be of any use in current situations of violence, discrimination or vulnerability. How can we concretely support justice, freedom, equality or safety? As I learned, human rights protection is primarily based on the attention provided in the aftermath of the events of violation. In these cases, it is important not only to consider the need to address human rights violations but also how to address them in order to improve a person's recovery and well-being. Many times, the way of providing attention happens to be even more important than the actual attention itself.
For people that have never been backed up with justice after suffering traumatic events, especially for those that had to right afterwards flee their own countries to survive, there is a huge gap to be mended in recognition and reparation. Most of the time people come up with their own strategies to cope the best way they can, but there is a need for institutional and long-term protection services to achieve more sustainable recoveries.
Major international and regional human rights treaties determine reparation as involving two elements: “a victim's access to the appropriate authorities to have their claim fairly heard and decided” and the “redress or relief that they can receive”. In Lesvos’ context, these two elements translate in practice into offering extra evidence on their asylum cases, the certification as survivors of certain incidents, and the psychosocial support that different organizations like Fenix can offer. On the island, NGOs and health providers work closely together with Fenix on tasks such as client-case screening, scar mappings, psychological screening and support, treatment, legal representation and interview preparation, advocacy, certification issuing and on-site protection in the case of ongoing abuses, situations of repetition or high risk.
To me, working in international protection has been a way of collaborating with the person to put all the pieces together. Besides, it implies a strong personal component of witnessing and offering grounds of recognition and moral reparation to their testimony. After the disclosure of events such as torture, sexual and gender based violence or human trafficking, it is our work, as Fenix’s Protection workers, to accompany the survivor on gathering information and the supporting documentation.
When accomplishing our duties, we might face the risk of re-victimisation. Sessions or conversations on incidents such as torture, sexual and gender-based violence or human trafficking must be handled with delicacy and extreme professionalism, as they often are a person’s moments of biggest vulnerability. Nevertheless, as I learned while working with Fenix, the risk of retraumatization doesn’t solely lie in asking someone about their traumatic experiences, it often depends on our reaction to a person's situations. There are traumatic and horrible experiences that need to be addressed and talked about, in order to advocate for goals such as legal protection.
By working with a protective approach we are clear about our intentions, reiterating the reasons for disclosing this information (urgent medical treatment or legal protection) and acknowledging the gravity of the situation. We pay attention to the basics of psychological first aid (PFA), by focussing on safety, dignity, rights and safeguarding the fundamental principle of not doing any further harm with actions such as comforting, open listening, assessing needs and concerns, providing emotional support in a non-intrusive manner, helping to address immediate basic needs and accessing information. For example, during a session with a survivor of torture, we will make it very clear that, even when we have agreed with the person to use the testimony for advocacy purposes, we do not own their story.
I can tell now that the theoretical concepts of human rights protection and reparation really apply on the ground. How you interact with a person serves to help with achieving their rights. Justice, freedom or equality are achieved in the every-day interaction. For our actions to be protection-based, we would rather strongly back people’s empowerment than advocate for their rights without their active involvement. Focusing on safety and restitution, protection workers intend to entrust people’s choices. It might take longer, but for sure we will arrive further.