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Understanding the mental health needs of refugees

An interview with Jenny Hwang on the effects of forced migration.

Jenny Hwang, used with permission
Source: Jenny Hwang,

Each day, refugees are forced from their homes. Most often, the places they go lack access to mental health resources. Luckily, work is being done to learn more about refugee mental health and address this growing worldwide need.

We interviewed Jenny Hwang to understand refugee mental health needs better. She is the Managing Director of the Humanitarian Disaster Institute at Wheaton College. She earned a bachelor’s degree in clinical psychology from Boston College and a master’s degree in international disaster psychology from the University of Denver. As an undergraduate, she worked at the Cambridge Women’s Center with women who experienced violence, homelessness, mental illnesses, and trauma. She has worked in Cambodia with local organizations on preventative initiatives for human trafficking. While pursuing her master’s degree, she worked with refugees on a domestic level as part of the family stabilization unit of Lutheran Family Services. As the Managing Director of HDI, she administers and manages research activities of the Institute.

JA: How would you define refugee mental health?

JH: I do have some hesitancy using the term “refugee mental health” because, often, it can undermine the vastness of mental health concerns and implications of the refugee experience. It’s a term that seems nuanced but any practitioner who has ever worked with refugees will note the complexities of the term “refugee mental health” and its possible implications.

But to give a broad definition, I would say it is an overall concern for the well-being of anyone who has experienced forced migration; it is the unique attention to the mental health concerns that arise from this experience, which is often webbed in political oppression, exposure to violence, discrimination, socioeconomic burdens, disruptions of identity, acculturation, and more.

JA: How can understanding mental health needs for refugees help our communities?

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JH: Becoming educated on the experiences of forced migration and its possible mental health impact can help us think more critically about our existing mental health care accessibility not only in regard to physical access but also the diversity of culturally appropriate interventions.

We will start to move toward an attitude of inclusivity when people are concerned with the well-being of others; take into account the similarities and differences; and build appropriate resources. This fosters more resilientcommunities.

JA: What are some ways people can learn more about refugee mental health issues?

JH: There are great resources out there that provide general information on refugee issues worldwide such as the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR), Amnesty International, and International Office of Migration (IOM). Organizations like the Center for Victims of Torture (CVT) and National Child and Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) provide great research, resources, and training focused specifically on psychological well-being.

JA: Any advice for those working with refugees in their own communities or abroad?

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JH: Collaborate. Helping people who have been forced to leave their homes can be incredibly challenging. Mental health for refugees involves more than addressing trauma. Everyday stressors like the uncertainty of the future, language barriers, health concerns, discrimination, and livelihood concerns are all crucial factors influencing mental health.

In the resettled refugee contexts, addressing the multitude of these concerns means taking an ecological framework by working collaboratively with a diverse team of lawyers, community navigators, social workers, doctors, advocates, and, when appropriate, religious leaders or indigenous healers.

In the international context, working collaboratively with the host communities (when applicable) and other organizations that are present allows a higher probability of engaging more holistic mitigation efforts. Also, the people you are hoping to serve are most likely the experts of their own needs. So engage, when feasible, the people you are serving as participatory agents.

JA: What projects are you currently working on?

READ  Displaced Yemen children at risk of the deadly impacts of severe food insecurity  

JH: You and I are working on an edited book about refugee mental health that is geared toward practitioners working with resettled refugee communities. We purposively asked a diverse network of practitioners and researchers to contribute in hopes of drawing wisdom from many different mental health perspectives. In the book, we feature social workers, MDs, clinical psychologists, counseling psychologists, and lay counselors about their experience in working with resettled refugee communities.

Culled from Psychology Today

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Over 140 migrants perish in deadliest shipwreck of the year

A group of suspected migrants are brought to shore by Border Force officers at the Port of Dover in Kent after a number of small boat incidents in the Channel in September. Photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA

At least 140 people have drowned after a vessel carrying around 200 migrants sank off the Senegalese coast, the deadliest shipwreck recorded in 2020.

According to media sources, the Senegalese and Spanish navies, and fishermen who were nearby, rescued 59 people and retrieved the remains of 20 others.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is deeply saddened by this recent tragedy, which follows four shipwrecks recorded in the Central Mediterranean last week and another in the English Channel.

“We call for unity between governments, partners and the international community to dismantle trafficking and smuggling networks that take advantage of desperate youth,” said Bakary Doumbia, IOM Senegal Chief of Mission.

“It is also important that we advocate for enhanced legal channels to undermine the traffickers’ business model and prevent loss of life.”

READ  NIgeria flays insugents' attack on UN humanitarian helicopter

Local community members told IOM the vessel left Mbour, a coastal town in western Senegal on Saturday (24/10) bound for the Canary Islands. The boat caught fire a few hours after departure and capsized near Saint-Louis, on Senegal’s northwest coast.

The Government of Senegal and IOM have arranged a mission to travel to Saint-Louis to assess the needs of survivors and provide immediate psychosocial assistance.

The number of departures from West Africa to the Canary Islands has significantly increased in recent weeks.

IOM Senegal has been monitoring departures from the coast with the assistance of members of the community since the beginning of September. In September alone, 14 boats carrying 663 migrants left Senegal for the Canary Islands. Of these departures, 26 per cent were reported to have experienced an incident or shipwreck.

IOM estimates there have been roughly 11,000 arrivals to the Canary Islands this year compared to 2,557 arrivals during the same period last year. This is still far below peaks seen in 2006 when over 32,000 people arrived.

READ  Humanitarian activities hindered as violence in Sahel region worsens displacement

With this tragic shipwreck, at least 414 people are known to have died along this route in 2020 according to IOM’s Missing Migrants Project, which recorded 210 fatalities there in all of 2019.

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Displaced Yemen children at risk of the deadly impacts of severe food insecurity  

Migrants near Budapest

The latest Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) Acute Malnutrition analysis released today by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Food Programme (WFP) and other partners is extremely concerning. With limited access to food, humanitarian services and health care, displaced children in Yemen are at risk of the deadly impacts of severe food insecurity.

Around 26 per cent of the more than 156,000 people newly displaced this year, in the areas where the International Organization for Migration (IOM) has access, cited food as their main need. This is the second most cited need after shelter and housing, which 65 per cent of people reported as their main need. In areas where there are higher levels of displacement, like Al Hudaydah, Taizz, Al Dhale’e and Marib, higher levels of food needs have also been reported.

“Displaced Yemenis leave their homes with nothing and often find themselves seeking safety in locations where there are no job opportunities and barely enough services, including health care,” said Christa Rottensteiner, IOM Chief of Mission for Yemen.

READ  No girl is safe': The mothers ironing their daughters' breasts

“This can leave vulnerable people without enough food to feed their families. Given that UN partners are reporting that acute malnutrition rates among children under five are the highest ever recorded in parts of Yemen, we are extremely worried about children in displaced families.”

The situation in Marib is particularly concerning given that an escalation in hostilities has displaced over 90,000 people to the city and caused a drastic shortage of services. Displaced people in Marib report food to be one of their most urgent needs. Of the displacement sites assessed by IOM in October, some reported that food shortages were a major concern for approximately 50 per cent of their residents.

In response to food insecurity, the emergency aid kits distributed under the Rapid Response Mechanism by IOM to newly displaced families include emergency food rations. IOM also carries out livelihood support activities for displaced communities to help them generate income. Most recently the Organization supported displaced women in making face masks which help their community combat the spread of COVID-19.

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IOM also operates a health centre in Al Jufainah Camp, Yemen’s largest displacement site, and multiple mobile health clinics. In addition to providing primary health care services to over 55 per cent of displaced people in Marib, IOM’s mobile health clinics provide community level access to malnutrition screening for children under the age of five and referral for treatment, in coordination with UNICEF. Given the high demand for such nutritional support, early intervention is vital to reducing avoidable morbidity and mortality among displaced children.

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Nigerians in Spain say no to genocide

Nigerians resident in Spain have kicked against bad governance and brutalitalisation of innocent citizens by security operatives in Nigeria.

They are in solidarity with the #Endsars protesters.

The #Endsars protest  started by young Nigerians to say no to brutality, impunity and gruesome killings in the hands of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the government in the country saw security operatives using live bullets on the protesters last week, October 21, 2020.

In a statement signed by Afolabi Oloko, the Nigerians in Spain said: “In every part  of the world, including Nigeria, we believe protesting is a fundamental right of all citizenry that we can exercise whenever we deem it fit as long as it is civil and devoid of violence but such is not the case in Nigeria where the young future of the country are murdered by their very own government just because they made demands that there must be a reform to the notorious Police department and that the country be reformed in general. Have they asked for too much from a responsible and responsive government?

READ  No girl is safe': The mothers ironing their daughters' breasts

“It is so disheartening that after Ten days that the youth refused to back down they resorted to killing, maiming of their own future generations just because they asked and begged for good governance and good policing. It’s a shame that young people are being killed all around the cities of Nigeria from Lagos, Abeokuta, Ibadan, Abuja, Ondo , Benin, Porthacort just to mention a few. It was horrendous seeing over seventy people being murdered at night while still protesting unarmed peacefully in Lekki area of Lagos state. They organised by switching off the street light while they carried out their evil deed against defenceless young people of the country and also took away the CCTV. The commander-in-chief of the Armed forces in person of President Muhamodu Buhari must be tried at the International court for genocide against it’s own people.

“We the compatriots far away in Spain are with our young brothers and sister on the streets saying no to bad governance as you’re in our hearts and prayers. We support you in the just cause you’re are fighting. Fighting for one’s future should not be seen as an affront to the authorities, rather they should look inward and realise that the system is rotten and should be cleansed but not killing innocent young men on the streets with Army being deployed to take lives of vibrant and resourceful, frustrated and change hungry citizens.
“Today, we came out in multitude in solidarity with our compatriots back home to say #ENDSARS! #ENDBADGOVERNANCE #ENDPOLICEBRUTALITY #ENDCORUPTION #ENDTHEGENOCIDE”

READ  NAPTIP secures 403 convictions against traffickers, advises against irregular migration

 

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