How to help newly arrived refugees build resilience

As countries begin integrating refugees in large numbers, aid groups see that some are re-learning how to trust after traumatic experiences, and they are experimenting with more integrated approaches to helping them.

Visar Kryeziu/AP
Migrants and refugees wait outside the registration camp near the southern Macedonian town of Gevgelija, Tuesday. Aid organizations are developing new approaches to helping refugees adapt as their numbers increase.

Refugees on the move from the Middle East are intent on reaching countries of safety, but aid groups in Western countries are beginning to worry about how to make them feel safe once they arrive, given the level of trauma they endured before and during their journey. 

The complex needs of today's refugees are not necessarily any different from the needs of those fleeing past conflicts, but the sheer number of them who are struggling with multiple issues relating to trauma while trying to become acclimated in a foreign land has underscored the need for aid organizations to take a holistic, integrated approach.

The flow of refugees into Europe is currently at 8,000 per day and climbing, according to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, and many of them have been diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, according to a review published in The Lancet. Even though many countries, individuals, churches, and civic groups are working tirelessly to meet their needs and help them settle into new homes, many of those struggling to build their lives anew may feel hampered by lingering trauma associated with the horrors that made them refugees.

"They often say they have been imprisoned, beaten all day long, shot at, or scalded with boiling water," psychotherapist Aurelia Barbieri, who is working with charity Medecins Sans Frontieres in Sicily, told Reuters. "They've been treated like beasts."

Ms. Barbieri said after their physical needs of food, clothing, and a safe shelter have been met, those who have travelled from Syria and Afghanistan may seek "psychological first aid," which in practice means someone who can listen with compassion to help them process their traumatic experiences.

"What I hope to do is first of all is listen," Barbieri told Reuters. "When they can feel they're in a protected place, they can start talking about their trauma."

The approaches to the problem vary. The London-based Helen Bamber Foundation hosts a series of sessions where participants can discuss past trauma. Such discussions, the head therapist Katy Robjant told Reuters, helped them place their experiences and their fear in the past – where it belongs. 

"You learn that you don't have to be afraid of your memories," Ms. Robjant told Reuters.

At the Refugee Therapy Centre, also based in London, the focus is on the present. Refugees who come to the refurbished piano factory where it is housed receive practical guidance on cultural adjustment, schooling, finding housing, and securing jobs.

The center's clinical director, Aida Alayarian, told Reuters that rather than rehash unpleasant memories, this helps people build resilient confidence as they learn to tackle problems in a new country. 

This report contains material from Reuters.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to How to help newly arrived refugees build resilience
Read this article in
https://www.csmonitor.com/World/2015/1204/How-to-help-newly-arrived-refugees-build-resilience
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today
https://www.csmonitor.com/subscribe