Miller School Team Hosts Human Rights Clinic Workshop

On a recent day in November, a group of Miller School physicians, residents and M.D./M.P.H. students turned their attention from medicine to human rights. Led by Stephen Symes, M.D., associate professor of medicine, members of the Human Rights Clinic of Miami held a workshop on the Miller School campus to help people fleeing persecution in their country of origin seek protection in the U.S.

Every year, thousands of individuals who have suffered violence, injustice, and torture abroad seek asylum in the United States. To assist those seeking asylum in South Florida, Symes and the Human Rights Clinic of Miami (HRC) team offer free medical and psychological evaluations and subsequent legal affidavits that document the individual’s suffering. Although 90 percent of asylum cases with medical evaluations are approved, most asylum-seekers do not have one due to a lack of qualified volunteer physicians and psychologists.

On the HRC team are Natasha Chida, instructor in the Department of Medicine, resident Nidhip Patel, M.D., and M.D./M.P.H. students Chanelle Diaz and Brigitte Frett.

Attending the Nov. 16 workshop were more than 50 people, including representatives from Florida Senator Marco Rubio’s office, the Florida Center for Survivors of Torture, Catholic Charities, Americans for Immigrant Justice, the UM School of Law, Nova Southeastern University, the Jefferson Reaves Sr. Family Health Center, and Miller School physicians, residents and medical students.

Attendees learned about the asylum process, networked with other organizations and providers, and received information on how to volunteer with the HRC. The workshop included an overview of the asylum process and training on how to appropriately interview clients, and assess psychological trauma and document torture.

“The asylum process involves many people: the individual client applying for asylum, the social services organizations they work with, their attorneys and advocates, and the physicians who can document evidence of torture,” said Frett, the HRC student co-director. “This training was an opportunity for the HRC to deepen our collaborations with the asylum community and continue expanding the services we can provide to meet the needs of asylum seekers in Miami-Dade County.”

More than half of Miami-Dade residents were born outside the United States, and some have fled torture and/or persecution in their homelands. Diaz, the other HRC student co-director, said the clinic provides a valuable service to the South Florida community while simultaneously providing education to medical students, residents, and fellows.

“The HRC model enables us to raise awareness among providers and expand the network of medical professionals capable of completing medical affidavits for asylum seekers and victims of torture and abuse.”

The foundation for the HRC was laid in 2009, when students, residents, and attending physicians at the University of Miami began collaborating with Physicians for Human Rights. The team drew on an existing academic model in operation at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York. Since meeting with its first client in October 2010, the HRC has completed more than 20 evaluations.

Speaking about the future of the clinic, Rammy Asaf, Physicians for Human Rights chapter president, said members plan to visit community-based organizations to build lasting partnerships in a network dedicated to advocating for protecting human rights and health in Miami.

For more information about the HRC or how to volunteer, please contact Frett (.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)) or Diaz (.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)).

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