Night and Day hosts benefit gig for torture survivors

Article published: Friday, November 9th 2012

Manchester musicians came together at the Northern Quarter’s Night and Day café last night to raise funds to support torture survivors in the UK.

A destitute asylum seeker. Photograph: Abbie Traylor-Smith 2009

Acts from Manchester’s music scene featuring Jo Rose, Rachel Hilary, Stacey Cohen and Dave Cookson came together in a benefit gig for Freedom from Torture, a charity which has helped refugees and asylum seekers for 25 years.

Freedom from Torture spokesperson Alice Nicolay told Mule how the charity offers counselling and help for people who have escaped from torture in countries such as Iran, Iraq, Syria, Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo only to find themselves in an unfamiliar and often hostile Britain.

People often “spend months travelling without knowing where they’re going” after bribing police guards and people smugglers she said, only to be “immediately questioned by the UK Border Agency and sent to a place where you don’t know the language and the culture.”

Often people who have survived torture are placed in detention centres claimed Nicolay, despite official regulations. “If someone’s a torture survivor, they shouldn’t be sent to detention. But they are.”

Up to 85 clients a year use the Freedom from Torture’s Manchester clinic alone she said, with many more using their other centres in the UK.

The charity claims to have assisted 50,000 clients since its inception and acoustic artist Stacey Cohen said she was “shocked” at the number of torture survivors in the UK. Cohen also criticised what she saw as an often sceptical attitude from authorities. “You can flick two cigarette burns on yourself but you can’t inflict 50”, she said.

The charity also offers training to government bodies and GPs in how to clinically recognise the marks of torture, although the charity says pressures on their clients such as destitution are increasing as government cuts to the welfare state kick in.

Asylum seekers are forbidden from working, and volunteer caseworker and newly qualified social worker Rory O’Connor said many were left in severe poverty. “A lot of them come from countries without a welfare state”, he explained, with little prior experience of how to navigate a labyrinthine support bureaucracy.

Folk musician Jo Rose told Mule how he had broken a six month hiatus from music to play at the benefit gig. “It’s such a horrific thing that people go through” he said, praising Freedom from Torture’s “counselling and their work with traumatised people”.

The Wythenshawe-based Dave Cookson, who also drums with Manchester three piece rap and reggae band Dirty North said, “I know we’ve got a corrupt government but at least we’re safe from torture. If they’re refugees they’ve got nowhere to go.”

Richard Goulding

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