The 30-year-old Center for Victims of Torture in St. Paul is bringing its work to Atlanta with a generous federal grant.

In a new partnership with the International Rescue Committee, the center will provide mental health services to new arrivals, including many refugees from war-torn Iraq and Congo as well as ethnic Karen from Myanmar.

While a lot of the roughly 260 survivors of torture served in the Twin Cities last year found their way to the center after years in the United States, the new project will engage refugees at a prime time — as they begin their transition to life in America.

“Atlanta provides the perfect laboratory for this new kind of partnership,” said Ruth Barrett-Rendler, the center’s deputy director. “Here in St. Paul, we can only help a drop in the bucket of individuals in need of our services.”

Barrett-Rendler says an ever-more heated debate over resettling refugees to the United States will not deter the planned expansion. The governor of Georgia is among 26 state chief executives who said they would try to block the arrival of Syrian refugees amid heightened security concerns after last week’s Paris terror attacks.

With a dearth of mental health services available to refugees, the International Rescue Committee reached out to the St. Paul center with an offer to team up. To fund the project, the center lined up $275,000 annually from the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement, which already contributes $865,000 a year toward the center’s budget.

In addition to its work in St. Paul, the center serves almost 3,000 people a year in Ethiopia, Kenya and Jordan. The new partnership will allow the center to reach people struggling with trauma sooner. In the weeks after they arrive, Atlanta-area refugees will go through a screening to find out if they might benefit from services.

The center hopes to replicate the effort in other cities. Barrett-Rendler says the debate over security and refugees doesn’t faze the center’s staff.

“To shut our door to refugees is to do exactly what the terrorists want,” she said.

 

Mila Koumpilova 612-673-4781