The second annual Learning Unlimited seminar took place on Friday 7th June, and we were delighted to welcome so many friends and colleagues old and new. Our keynote speaker, Keith Best, CEO of the charity Freedom from Torture, spoke movingly and passionately about the impact of torture on its victims. He highlighted the trauma of both the literal and metaphorical journey to safety and – possibly – to recovery,
observing that it is a process that can stretch for years or for lifetimes. And he forcefully reminded us how current immigration policy can often make it worse – in particular what he called the ‘culture of mistrust’ that means many genuine victims of torture are routinely disbelieved when they attempt to explain what has happened to them.
We next heard two dialogues – based on the real experience and testimony of two victims of torture – performed by the Ice and Fire theatre company, followed by a very moving account of his own experience of surviving torture from Kolbassia Haoussou, of the Survivors Speak Out group.
These three testimonies together reminded all present of the truly ‘front line’ nature of much of our work. Many of us will have encountered victims of torture and persecution in our classes, and we will have recognised the rights of such learners to our support and, in many cases, advocacy. Yet for many present – perhaps especially those of us involved in ESOL – the evening will also have raised some nagging questions about the relationship between language teaching and the ‘gatekeeping’ functions of citizenship requirements.