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Enforced journey

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Manouchehr Issapour recalls the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture in its early days in a cramped, none-toosavoury building, but already a beacon for victims of torture. The need has not gone away, as recent images from Iraq reinforce.

Issapour contrasts the journey of a torture victim with that of an immigrant, who chooses to journey, chooses a destination, is free to return, does not cut off roots and travels hopefully. The torture victim flees 'away' rather than 'to', making an enforced journey, uncertain of being accepted by a new society, often concerned about being repatriated rather than offered asylum.

He has seen torture victims over time, in their diversity. They come to the foundation from nearly 100 different countries, with very particular personal experiences;

generalisations are rarely appropriate. One broad picture Issapour does draw is that while the immigrant's future hope is for welcome, then settlement, then often integration, by contrast, for torture victims, the past is more problematic. He sees that the children often come to fit in readily in the new country, taking life as they find it, as children do. As for the elderly, they often find others from the old country in local enclaves and live a sort of suspended past, often not learning English.

It is the middle-aged he sees as often finding life the least straightforward - a zig-zag, he describes it - all the while trying to reconcile the past (where family may have been left behind) with creating a future.

Some of the issues are practical, addressable by supportive discussion. But as important, he emphasises, is the unconscious and the triggering of remembering. So the symbolism of the Medical Foundation is an important part of its clients' experience. The foundation cannot, of course, be all things to all cultures.

And his reading of this new building is personal too, but broadly informed.

The curved wall following the street he feels gives 'a kindness to the building', more welcoming than a four-square structure. (As an architect he is also well aware of the need to respond to site constraints. ) The rather solid outer wall is a price you pay for the sheltering enclave within; though the small square windows may evoke windows in cell doors. The openness and light of the entrance experience and the garden are, for him, the triumph of the building.

Water appears to be something approaching universal in its symbolism - cleansing and purifying, and a focus for contemplation. Issapour also takes a personal view of the water rill that starts within the building and runs through the glass cladding into the garden: for him, inside and outside symbolise the past and the future. He describes the curved lines of the garden as 'democratic', where people of very different cultures and experiences meet. Their personal estrangement cannot be un-lived. But he has nothing but praise for the healing hand the foundation offers.

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