Help for all those who have fled oppression

COLLEGE student Hasan was 14 when he arrived at the Refugee Therapy Centre in Archway after fleeing the war in Afghanistan

Kaya Burgess

COLLEGE student 'Hasan' was 14 when he arrived at the Refugee Therapy Centre in Archway after fleeing the war in Afghanistan.

He had lost half his left leg and part of his left arm, and his entire family had been killed by coalition forces.

Two years on, thanks to the specialist care and therapy he has received at the RTC, Hasan is attending college and has rebuilt his confidence.

Aida Alayarian, co-founder of the centre, said: "He is so resourceful and optimistic. The Afghani people we have met are such lovely people."

Ms Alayarian was herself a refugee from Iran which she was forced to leave because of her part in the human rights movement.

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She arrived in England in 1991 and wanted to help others who had fled persecution. A few years later she set up the centre with Dr Josephine Kline who was herself a Holocaust refugee 50 years earlier.

Refugees, asylum seekers and torture victims can come to the centre on St John's Way for appointments with one of 47 qualified therapists, who between them speak 21 languages.

'Maria' is typical of many of the volunteers at the centre as she was herself a refugee. She fled Iran with her parents at the age of 15 and arrived in London unable to speak English.

After the death of her father, her GP recommended her to the refugee centre. One-on-one sessions as well as group therapy enabled Maria to build a life in this country, and she is now finishing a degree in psychology.

She said: "The centre has given me so much that I cannot even put it into words. Therapy made me a stronger person. It helped me to understand and make sense of my new life."

The demand for the therapy centre is increasing. In 2001 there were just eight referrals. In 2007 there have been 389.

More than 90 per cent of those referred have suffered some kind of state-sanctioned torture in their home countries with large numbers coming from the Congo, Eritrea and the Kurdish areas of Turkey.

Ms Alayarian puts great emphasis on helping children and their education. Her role on the International Rehabilitation Council of Torture Victims has allowed her to lobby for her patients' and make a difference to the lives of hundreds of refugees arriving in Britain.

She said: "I think I was born a political animal. We need to consult with lots of groups, including the NHS and Amnesty. An exchange of knowledge is so important, and we are so grateful to them for the trust they put in us."

The Refugee Therapy Centre has just bought new premises in Leeds Place in Stroud Green, and needs to raise an extra £500,000 for the renovation that will allow services to expand. Anyone who would like to help should call the centre on 020-7272 2565.

o 'Hasan' and 'Maria' are not their real names.