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Oakland human rights clinic provides rare, forensic medical evidence for tortured asylum seekers

Oakland human rights clinic provides rare, forensic medical evidence for tortured asylum seekers

Initially posted on www.ktvu.com

By Lisa Fernandez and Candice Nguyen

When Dr. Nick Nelson, the medical director of the Highland Hospital Human Rights Clinic, walks the halls of his Oakland medical middle, he’s getting a peek at atrocities across the globe.

His sufferers embrace Eritreans who’ve been pressured to stay in metallic containers, Mexican immigrants who’ve been electrocuted by the cartel and a Mayan lady who had watched her sister get raped in entrance of her in Guatemala.

His sufferers come from everywhere in the world. And these asylum seekers are wanting urgently for his particular medical expertise. His diagnoses are essential. Nelson assesses his sufferers’ bodily and emotional states, after which provides immigration attorneys with documented, forensic evidence to show they have been tortured, abused and persecuted of their homelands.
And he says the variety of individuals fleeing from torture is extra widespread than the typical individual thinks.

“I would say whether or not you know, basically if you’ve been outside in Oakland, you’ve probably encountered someone who’s been tortured in their home country,” Nelson stated.

In six years, Nelson’s medical group at Highland Hospital’s Human Rights Clinic – the one one among its type in Northern California — has helped at the least 200 immigrants obtain asylum in america. There are solely about 20 such clinics nationwide. And with the assistance of physicians like Nelson, alongside the work of immigration attorneys, refugees are granted asylum 87 % of the time, in comparison with the typical of 37 %, in response to knowledge compiled by Physicians for Human Rights.

The job is troublesome. However Nelson is aware of his particular talent set can imply life or demise for the inflow of refugees fleeing to the Bay Space. And he is aware of that the timing of his assistance is much more necessary at the moment, because it comes at a crossroads with the present Trump Administration’s angle on immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees. Final week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated america will slash the variety of refugees it’ll settle for for a second straight yr.

The newest statistics make Nelson’s work extra daunting, however serving to his sufferers discover protected refuge is his life’s ardour.

“It’s hard,” Nelson stated. “I have kids. I’m married. I have a life that’s not unlike a lot of patients had before the things happened to them. I think about what it would be like if a bunch of goons woke me up in the middle of the night, and I disappeared for 18 months, which is what happened to the guy I saw the day before.”

Physician’s job is placing fact to tales of horror

During the last month, Nelson gave KTVU a uncommon peek at his the Highland Hospital Human Rights Clinic. KTVU’s staff interviewed three sufferers fleeing from Guatemala, Mexico and Eritrea and agreed to guard their identities by blurring their photographs and never utilizing their actual names as a result of they worry hurt would come to them and their households again residence. The three sufferers interviewed all arrived within the Bay Space inside the final two years, which they famous is a most unwelcoming time politically for individuals of their conditions. All of their asylum instances are pending.

“I see it as a death sentence,” stated Ammanual, who fled from Eritrea, and is now scared of being despatched residence.

Sufferers like Ammanuel come to Nelson as a result of they’ve medical illnesses: Low B12 counts, numb legs, melancholy, poor mobility of limbs.

However additionally they come to Nelson, particularly, in order that he can doc their tales of horror after which testify in immigration courtroom on their behalf.

Nelson scours his sufferers’ our bodies, wanting for indicators of bodily trauma: Burns, scars, damaged bones and gunshot wounds. He additionally listens for indicators of emotional misery. Can his sufferers stay awake due to the violence they noticed and endured again house? Are their reminiscences impaired? And he makes use of his cultural information of torture around the globe to detect whether or not his sufferers’ tales match up with abuses documented by the United Nations and Amnesty Worldwide. In solely uncommon instances, he stated, does he discover that his sufferers usually are not telling the reality.

Nelson then writes up a report, just like an FBI affidavit, which he then submits to immigration attorneys. His testimony is added to the official courtroom report.

Jennifer Rampton is a Fremont immigration lawyer who has referred about 15 shoppers to the Highland Hospital Human Rights Clinic.

“Clients have little access to documents in countries like Eritrea and Cameroon where they have been tortured by their governments,” she stated. “And to have a clinic that documents physical injuries and scars, that is just hugely valuable.”

Mayan mom, Mexican father describe persecution, electrocution

On a current weekday morning, Abela, a 20-year-old Mayan mom who fled Guatemala, got here to Nelson’s workplace, hoping that he and his workforce might assist her and her Four-year-old son keep in Oakland. That’s the place mom and son fled to in 2016, and the place she is now dwelling with a pal and cleansing homes.

Her eyes downcast, Abela described years of violence, persecution and discrimination by the ruling cultural group in Guatemala. Her son, who was as soon as malnourished, sat within the small physician’s workplace beside her, smiling and consuming milk from a blue bottle. As she spoke, typically in a whisper, she typically needed to management her tears.

“My sister got raped in front of me,” she stated, talking in her native Mam language. “They told us indigenous people are worth nothing. We are born to suffer because we don’t speak Spanish. We ate dirt. The world would be better without us.”

This was her first go to to Highland Hospital, and one in every of Nelson’s residents did the preliminary consumption, documenting what Abela stated after which getting ready the paperwork for immigration courtroom.

Simply earlier than her appointment, Nelson had seen Carlos, a 30-something father of two from Michoacan, Mexico, who stated he actually ran from Mexico this spring, getting shot within the course of. This was additionally Carlos’ first go to.

Carlos stated he watched his nephew get killed earlier than his eyes. Sporting a grey baseball cap, and crossing his arms in entrance of his chest, Carlos stated that the Mexican cartel kidnapped him and his nephew for 24 hours and tried to drive them to work for them earlier than he was capable of escape.

“They hurt me,” Carlos stated in Spanish, a translator deciphering his phrases within the small physician’s workplace over the telephone. “They physically attacked me. They punched my body. They did electric shock to my privates.”

Nelson, who speaks fluent Spanish, listened to Carlos to determine a medical remedy plan.

After which he additionally went again to his workplace to put in writing a medical report: He famous the various scars on Carlos’ physique which might be according to being whipped by a chicotewhip. And he wrote how Carlos’ left thumb is broken due to a gunshot wound he sustained by the hands of the cartel. Nelson additionally mentioned Carlos’ nightmares, his resistance to watching something violent on tv and his lack of ability recall easy issues like his wedding ceremony anniversary or his childrens’ birthdays. Nelson attributed the bodily and emotional duress to violence Carlos suffered by the cartel kidnapping.

Carlos, who labored within the fields in Mexico, is now dwelling in Hayward together with his spouse and two youngsters.

Tortured man in Yemen granted asylum

Nelson’s present sufferers hope to have a future like Mohammed, 53, of Alameda who was granted asylum 5 years in the past.

“This man is a very great man,” Mohammed stated of Nelson. Mohammed, a pc tutor, fled bodily abuse and imprisonment in Yemen in 2013 and was granted refugee standing that very same yr, partially, because of Nelson and his immigration lawyer.

Along with treating Mohammed’s medical points and reminiscence impairment, Nelson additionally helped him discover work, a job and a house. Mohammed stated he’s now making use of for citizenship.

Painful for Eritrean man to discuss torture

The Highland Hospital Human Rights Clinic opened in 2001 as a spot for asylum-seekers and refugees to get care. Nelson, who took over as director in 2012, says his staff does about 85 evaluations a yr. And nonetheless, the ready record is three months lengthy.

Nelson often sees his sufferers for an hour, taking lengthy oral histories.

The exams are grueling. Many sufferers get emotional throughout these visits, remembering the torture they sustained.

Typically, sufferers don’t need to keep in mind.

“Talking about it is the last thing I want to do,” stated Ammanuel, a affected person from Eritrea, talking quietly in his native Tigrinya, as a translator interpreted his dialog over the telephone. “It just makes me relive it all.”

In 2009, Troopers grabbed Ammanuel at a restaurant together with his associates, kidnapping him and forcing him to stay in a metallic container for months, he stated. They sure his wrists along with a metallic rod, hung him the wrong way up and beat him with fists and electrical wires. They accused him of getting high-powered connections to permit him to skirt army enlistment as he ought to have within the 10th grade. He denies any such relationships and insists he skipped out on the army just because he needed to complete his schooling.

His voice trails off as he added, “What happened to me….you just don’t do that to human beings.”

To this present day, considered one of his legs is numb and gained’t transfer correctly.

After which his ideas flip towards Nelson. A sluggish smile begins to seem. “I never expected to get this help,” he stated. “This is how humans should be.”

Affected person temper has modified underneath Trump Administration

Whereas the affected person load and demographics hasn’t modified that a lot underneath the The Trump Administration, Nelson stated the temper undoubtedly has.

“The people we see now are a lot more scared,” Nelson stated. “There’s less confidence that they’ll receive due process.”

He additionally stated that with current courtroom rulings, extra refugees are being held in ICE detention amenities, and aren’t allowed to see their docs of their workplaces. Meaning, within the final two years, Nelson and his workforce have made greater than two dozen “house calls” to ICE detention facilities. Earlier than 2016, Nelson stated he had not often made such a go to.

“I get up at 4 a.m. drive four hours to Bakersfield, and then hope to be home by 9 p.m.,” he stated.

And most of the instances that Nelson oversees, together with sufferers who allege gang violence, may have a “much higher burden of proof.” Nelson was referring to Lawyer Basic Jeff Periods’ proclamation in June that gang violence and home abuse will not be grounds for asylum.

Refugees hoping for a greater future

For now, Abela stated that she believes in God and she or he has religion that she’ll someday be capable of reside in Oakland legally and never be pressured to return to Guatemala.

Going again for her is just not an choice.

“They threatened me to take my kid away,” she stated. “It’s very painful that we have to leave. I’m afraid to go back home. I hope the president changes his mind.”

And regardless that she struggles right here within the Bay Space, Abela stated her life is markedly higher than again residence. She stated that now her son is pleased and extra lively. She is grateful they each can get handled at Nelson’s workplace and reside a life free from persecution.

“I’m just looking for a better life,” she stated.