Why I Became a Doctor Who Treats Torture Victims

A group of migrants who made a bid to reach Europe but turned back in Libya due to armed groups are shown in a pickup truck in Agadez, northern Niger, on March 31, 2017.

Dr. McKenzie is the Director of the Yale Center for Asylum Medicine.

I first met Charles when I documented his scars. He planned to use my medical report as evidence in immigration court where he was applying for asylum based on the persecution he had endured for his political opinions. Charles’ interrogators had wanted him to stop protesting against the government. So they’d detained him after a peaceful rally and tortured him for two weeks. His captors kept him in a filthy, crowded, insect-infested cell. When they took him out of it to be questioned, they threatened his life and his family. They then beat, cut and burned him. Others captured protestors were not released. They were killed.

Charles, whose name I’ve changed for privacy reasons, was from a country in Africa ruled by a dictator with an abysmal human rights record. Knowing that his life would continue to be at risk, he fled to the U.S. for safety. Fortunately, the court granted him asylum. Once again, he was lucky.