A place of their own – on belonging beyond borders

Over the past few months, Dost’s Child and Adolescent mental Health Services (CAMHS) Practitioner Jessica Muir has been presenting her research, ‘Belonging Beyond Borders,’ to the Tavistock Clinic’s Refugee Forum and students at University Campus Suffolk. This has provided an opportunity to share Dost’s approach to working with refugees with other organisations.  The presentations have led to some interesting discussions and debates about what we need to feel at home and what factors might prevent young refugees from feeling settled in the new communities that they find themselves in.

It was through working with young people at Dost that Jessica first became interested in the impact that spaces and places can have on the psychological experience of young unaccompanied refugees. There was little previous research in this area, the focus having been in other, more cognitive areas. Knowing the impact that location can have on mental wellbeing, Jessica decided to investigate further. For this study, she spoke to young men between the ages of 19 and 23, who had arrived in the UK less than five years ago. All of the young men were from Iraq and Afghanistan. The majority of unaccompanied migrants arriving in the UK at the present time are from Afghanistan.*The interviews raised a number of issues:

For example, discussions about the Home Office and Job Centre revealed the negative attitudes that young refugees encounter in bureaucratic spaces:

Because you know, especially the Home Office, you know, you don’t have leave to remain you know, they, they look at you different to other people, that time. Job Centre is, it depends on the person, helping you, talking to you… Some of them it’s like they think, she or her or him, they think money in their pocket or his pocket to you, they think like that. …They think, they think they are giving money from their pocket… You know what I mean?

In contrast, when the interviewees spoke about places in which they feel comfortable, this emphasised the positive effect of community spaces where they can make friends and share their stories:

…Most of them, is in the same situation, so you know you are not alone, you’re not the only one on that boat, you got people that are there, that have got the same problem that you’ve got, that’s what makes it good as well… You know, it makes it interesting, it’s not like I’m going there and I’m the only one to come from Iraq travelling and stuff, I’m not the only one who has a difficult story, it’s everyone there…

The research confirmed that having a space in which they feel comfortable has a direct and positive impact on the mental wellbeing of displaced young people. This suggests that therapeutic work with young refugees may need to move beyond traditional, clinical settings and encompass community initiatives. If you would like further information about this research, please contact Jessica.


*Source: Home Office Statistics released February 2013


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