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Reed Smith and International Partners Launch Private Initiative to Resettle Refugee Survivors of Torture in Canada

New York, June 26, 2020 (International Day in Support of Victims of Torture). Global law firm Reed Smith, the Canadian Centre for Victims of Torture and over a dozen international organizations have launched a privately funded initiative to resettle refugees who have suffered torture and/or sexual violence. Through a Can$500,000 grant from the Boston-based Shapiro Foundation and support from other private philanthropists, including founding supporter, Dean Dakolias of Fortress Investment Group, the partnership—named Lamp Lifeboat Ladder—combines the creativity of the private sector, with the regulatory capacity of the public sector and the social representation of civil society to protect 90 refugee families and help them rebuild their lives.

This initiative is the result of intensive discussions among Reed Smith, the World Refugee and Migration Council and the Government of Canada that began in 2019. “Today there are more than 25 million refugees around the world. Less than 1% are ever resettled to safe countries. Most live in camps or shadow-communities and they are excluded from participating in our communities, our economies and our world,” said the Honorable Lloyd Axworthy, Chair of the World Refugee and Migration Council. “Among the Council’s main recommendations for addressing this issue is our call for shared responsibility: We all have a role to play in responding to the humanitarian needs of people who are forcibly displaced.”

Lamp Lifeboat Ladder brings this vision to life. Reed Smith and the Canadian Centre for Victims of Torture will implement the project with the Government of Canada, with support from the Shapiro Foundation, the World Refugee and Migration Council, Survivors Speak Out, Médecins Sans Frontières, the Center for Victims of Torture, Stanford University’s Human Rights in Trauma Mental Health Program, and others around the world. The initiative is specifically for refugees who have suffered torture and/or sexual violence.

“Many refugees are victims of torture, including sexual torture, and this has catastrophic effects on their physical, psychological and social well-being,” said Mulugeta Abai, executive director of the Canadian Centre for Victims of Torture. “Torture survivors face challenges in accessing rehabilitation, which is exacerbated when they are in flight, lack shelter, and have no social or medical support. Our collaborative partnership aims to provide the resources survivors need to resettle in Canada, heal and rebuild their lives.”

Lamp Lifeboat Ladder is built upon the premise that torture survivors are experts on their own rehabilitation, and the voices of survivors are the most important voices in any project to protect them. “The needs of torture survivors are complex. Any program aimed at protecting them must be guided by them from conceptualization to implementation,” said Kolbassia Haoussou, founder of Survivors Speak Out. “I’ve witnessed how Reed Smith has incorporated this philosophy in its programs around the world. And they have made it a central pillar of the Canada initiative. I’m proud to be a partner with them on the project.”

Reed Smith has run programs to protect refugees and survivors of torture for nearly 20 years. Over the past decade, the firm has resettled more than 300 survivors from Jordan, Greece, Haiti and Central America to safety in Canada, the United States, Spain, Germany, Australia, France and the United Kingdom. Since 2015, the firm has committed over $2 million on refugee projects in the Middle East, Europe and North America.

“Our initiative comes at a critically important moment,” said Reed Smith Global Managing Partner Sandy Thomas. “Many states have slashed or ended funding for the UN and international humanitarian organizations. Such reductions have crippled programs aimed at protecting refugees. Our initiative builds upon Canada’s long and exceptional history of refugee protection and creates an additional privately funded pathway for protecting refugees in a time of overwhelming need. We’re proud to be leading this project and hope other entities and individuals will team up with us on the initiative.”

Reed Smith’s next step in the development of the project is leveraging private investments and donations from individuals, businesses and foundations to provide housing, rehabilitation care, psychosocial support and employment opportunities to torture survivors resettled in Canada. The team must raise enough funds to support 90 refugee survivors of torture, along with their families, in their quest for a new life. The cost of resettling these refugees and providing support for two years ranges from US$18,000-$35,000 (depending on family size and composition). The hope is to raise enough money to resettle all 90 refugees who have been identified for this program, along with their families, which the team estimates will cost US$2.5-3.0 million.

In its annual Global Trends report issued last week, UNHCR reported that there were a record 79.5 million displaced persons, an increase of 100% over the past decade and 10 million in just the past year. 26 million of these are refugees and last year only 107,800 were resettled globally (less than one in 200). “At this critical time, it is more important than ever to support host countries like Canada which are leading the world in creating innovative resettlement programs, particularly for the most vulnerable,” said Ed Shapiro, President of The Shapiro Foundation. “It is our great honor to support Reed Smith and their partners in this initiative and continue to work with government, private sector and NGO partners to increase and enhance community-based sponsorship pathways.”

“We’re committed to designing the most innovative and effective project possible,” said Jayne Fleming, leader of Reed Smith’s pro bono Human Rights Team and international director of Lamp Lifeboat Ladder. “While we’re aware of the enormous challenges torture survivors face in rebuilding their lives, our goal is to create a holistic, integrated program that is community-based, guided by survivors and supported by partners across every sector of society. We hope many people will join with us in this effort.”

More on Lamp Lifeboat Ladder.

Canadian Center for Victims of Torture.

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Help us aid refugees who have survived torture and trauma to discover a new life by supporting their relocation to Canada.