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At Our Best: Lamp Lifeboat Ladder makes progress

The vision of giving survivors of torture a chance to heal and start a new life is coming to fruition in 2021, though a resettlement program led by Reed Smith lawyers.

Seven families (28 individuals) have already arrived in Toronto and Alberta, Canada, with their families for resettlement through Lamp Lifeboat Ladder. The families are from Syria, Iran and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Two more families (comprising six people) will travel to Canada in the near future. Seven more families are in the application stage and ready to submit. Many more are in the interview stage in Greece and Jordan.​

The Canadian government is accepting up to 90 torture survivors – along with their family members – through the public-private partnership led by Reed Smith, the Canadian Center for Victims of Torture, and the World Refugee & Migration Council, and other international partners.​

This is a pro bono project led by Pro Bono Counsel Jayne Fleming, who has been in Jordan and Greece for 18 months managing it. 

Lamp Lifeboat Ladder ensures that financial and settlement support is available in Canada to all families for two years. Its goal is to ensure that the survivors have access to targeted rehabilitation care and social support. The curriculum and approach are designed by survivors and individualized, rather than top-down and prescriptive.

We spoke to Reed Smith Senior Pro Bono Counsel Christopher Walters about Lamp Lifeboat Ladder's latest strides, and why we can expect it to achieve more milestones in the next 12 months.

What's the latest news you'd like to share about this project?

The very most exciting news of this 2021 summer is that survivors and their families (pro bono clients) have been arriving in Canada! So far, seven families have arrived in Canada where they are rebuilding their lives with support from Lamp Lifeboat Ladder, Canadian hosts ('ally groups'), and partner organizations. Also exciting is that the Canadian government has agreed to extend our Lamp Lifeboat Ladder project for an additional year until September 2022.​

Why is Lamp Lifeboat Ladder making this a survivor-guided path to resettlement and avoiding a top-down approach?

Survivors are not objects. They have the will, capacity and vision to lead their own lives. Traditional paths to resettlement are often top-down, paternalistic, non-transparent and tinged with a savior mentality. Lamp Lifeboat Ladder prioritizes self-determination and agency over paternalism and control. We recognize that survivors have tremendous power, strength and courage. They just need a helping hand in achieving their vision for their life. We extend that hand and walk with them on their journey of recovery from torture.

Can you talk about the importance of a newcomer having access to a full range of services when resettling? How does Lamp Lifeboat Ladder do this?

One of the most innovative aspects of our work is that we have a 'Survivors Council' made up of nine survivors of torture who were forced to flee their country. Members of the Council have lost everything: a connection to their homeland, their community, their sense of security, and hope for the future. We take direction from them on what survivors in our program need to rebuild their lives: safety, a sense of belonging, dignity, and the building blocks to create a new life (housing, access to education for their children, access to health care, and other essential supports). Our teams and partners in Canada provide this wrap-around support as soon as a family arrives in Canada and it continues for two years, giving each family the support they need to heal from trauma, gain self-reliance and go on with their life.

Parting words about the journey these people undergo—the experiences they have been through—obstacles they face in exile—what do you think is the most important help they need?

The goal of torture is to control the victim and crush their sense of self by subjecting them to the most agonizing forms of psychological and physical violence. The pathway to recovery from torture is long, painful and terrifying. This is true not only for the victim, but for family members, including children who have experienced the secondary impacts of torture. Children of survivors of the holocaust may understand this secondary trauma. The pathway to recovery from torture is less painful when it feels safe, and survivors and their families are not alone on the journey. Lamp Lifeboat Ladder strives to accompany survivors, always elevating self-determination over power, always recognizing survivors have a vision for their own life, and always remembering our role is to honor and support that vision.  

About the author

Todd Leeuwenburgh

Todd has a background in writing, editing, journalism, as well as digital and print publishing. He has worked in several countries and has an advanced degree in international relations. He writes content for and helps manage this website. 

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