Tuesday 6 December 2016

A heartbreaking encounter with a refugee's pain and trauma

Published 09/03/2016 | 02:30

A riot police officer near a burning shelter in Calais. Picture: Reuters
A riot police officer near a burning shelter in Calais. Picture: Reuters

The media has abounded with images of displaced people being forcibly moved from the French camps, and attempts continue to stop others from crossing the European borders. This is a far cry from the outpouring of grief that followed publication of the image of young Alan Kurdi's drowned body on the shores of Turkey in September 2015. Hearts have hardened and the human suffering is again becoming invisible.

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I recently returned from Calais after spending a week working with Irish colleagues, attempting to alleviate the suffering of these people. I attended to people who were suffering many ailments, but one man will remain forever in my memory as a reminder of the realities of individual human suffering. As he struggled to take off his T-shirt, I noticed it was bloodstained in a number of places. Once it was removed, I could only look in shock as he revealed eight circular wounds in two vertical rows of four. Each wound was about 2cm in diameter and, it emerged, had been made by a hot poker device. He had been tortured by the Taliban in Afghanistan one month before.

Dressing his wounds was easy. It was while sitting with him afterwards that I saw the terror in his eyes. Fear for his life and for those of his family left behind. All we could do was hug as we cried together; two human beings grieving for the loss of humanity, shedding tears for the reality of one man who has suffered the evil of what humans can do to each other. In touching his wounds, I felt I had touched that evil - and it has left me despairing, particularly as he, and others like him, continue to experience exclusion, derision and inhumane treatment in this European Union founded on values so different to those that drive it today.

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