New York, United States
Dr. Allen Keller directs the NYU/Bellevue Program for Survivors of Torture, which he founded in 1995 in New York. Under his leadership, the program has undergone extraordinary growth and has now cared for over 1,000 men, women, and children from over 70 different countries. These individuals have received comprehensive medical, mental health, social and legal services. The program's goals are to see survivors, one by one, enjoying healthy and satisfying lives in the United States, and to contribute knowledge and testimony to global efforts to reduce and end the use of torture. Dr. Keller continues to care for approximately 200 torture survivors as their primary care physician. He frequently examines torture victims applying for political asylum, prepares affidavits, and testifies in immigration court on their behalf.
In the past year, he has particularly focused on providing such assistance to torture victims in INS detention facilities, and has returned for follow up visits to provide them with psychosocial support. Recently, he completed a study examining the health and experiences of asylum seekers, many whom are torture victims, who languish in INS detention. This study is the first of its kind, and reported high levels of anxiety, depression, and PTSD that worsened the longer individuals were in detention. Additionally, he documented poor treatment while in INS detention. The study was recently released in a report issued by Physicians for Human Rights, and provided valuable information for advocacy efforts against the growing trend to treat asylum seekers like criminals.
During the last two years, Dr. Keller has been an outspoken advocate against any sanctioning or use of torture, including as a potential tool in the War on Terrorism. On this and other issues regarding torture, he is an exceptionally thoughtful and articulate spokesperson and writer. He works tirelessly to increase public awareness about the health needs of torture survivors and other relevant issues.
Though based in the United States, Dr. Keller has worked extensively in other countries affected by torture and violence. Thus his knowledge of these peoples' plight and familiarity with related issues extends further than the presenting symptoms of refugees that have arrived in the United States. His approach has always been to work collaboratively with local officials, and to transmit his skills and knowledge to others through education and training. Examples of the diversity of his work in other countries include:
1985-86 Providing medical care and training to Cambodian refugees in Aranyaprathet, Thailand.
1992-93 Coordinated health and education programs, including primary and preventive health care, water sanitation and
literacy programs in Pursat Province, Cambodia.
1993 Conducted fieldwork on the medical and social consequences of landmines in Cambodia.
1993 Developed a United Nations sponsored program to teach human rights to Cambodian medical professionals and
medical and nursing students.
1996 Led Physicians for Human Rights investigation to examine reports of torture among Tibetan refugees in India.
1999 Participated in investigation documenting human rights violations in Kosovo.
1999 Conducted epidemiological survey in refugee camps in Albania and Macedonia.
2002 Helped to develop a program in Mexico training forensic doctors in documenting torture.
Dr. Keller has many of the outstanding qualities often attributed to Barbara Chester - demonstrating superior therapeutic/healing skills, strong and effective client advocacy, empirical and scholarly contributions, focus on education and training, respect for cultural diversity, drawing upon community organization and teamwork, tenacity, courage, and compassion.
Regarding the Barbara Chester Award
After receiving the Barbara Chester Award, my colleagues and I at the Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture (PSOT) had a discussion about what to do with the cash award. The decision was quick and unanimous - establish a client assistance fund. This is something we very much needed and believe is in keeping with the spirit of Barbara and The Hopi Foundation. The fund continues though requiring regular replenishment. It provides for a variety of needs including:
- Emergency shelter (including assistance to prevent a client from being evicted
- Food, clothing
- Transportation needs such as attending immigration hearings, job interviews, or subway tokens for program appointments
- Medical needs such as special medications, medical/dental procedures that require out of pocket expenses; contributions toward the cost of prosthetics
- School tuition and supplies
- Contribution toward the cost of funerals for PSOT clients and family
Reflections on a Beautiful Feather
When I returned from the Barbara Chester Award ceremony, we had a family meeting-with my beautiful wife Suzy, and our children Rachel and Jake, about where to keep the sculpture. Initially, we decided it belonged on top of my dresser, so that it is one of if not the first thing I see when I wake up in the morning, and then just before I go to sleep. I’ve also kept the sculpture in my office-so that more people can see it.
I cherish the sculpture and the Barbara Chester Award. The feather sparks discussions about its beauty and elegance and then why there is such an award. To me the feather is a continuous reminder of the work, my dear fellow Barbara Chester recipients, and my friends and colleagues at The Hopi Foundation.