Support for refugees and asylum seekers

Ella Rhodes reports on new British Psychological Society guidelines.

The world is currently witnessing higher levels of displacement than ever before; 65.6 million people have been forced from their home countries and among them are 22.5 million refugees more than half of whom are under 18. New guidelines from the British Psychological Society point to a vital role for psychologists in supporting refugees and asylum seekers.

Produced by the Society’s Presidential Taskforce on Refugees and Asylum Seekers, chaired by Professor Bill Yule (King’s College London), the guidelines offer advice on supporting different client groups such as adults, families and children, young people and unaccompanied minors. There is also guidance on working in the wider community and in settings such as the workplace and nurseries, schools and colleges. The practicalities of working with interpreters are discussed too.

Yule said that asylum seekers had shown great fortitude in fleeing to the UK: ‘They bring many skills and experiences with them. But they may not always be familiar with the way things are done in their new country. Many individuals and organisations have offered to help them settle, but while many local communities show support, some others may show a lack of interest or worse. Asylum seekers may experience a lot of stresses such as homelessness, social exclusion, stereotyping and overt discrimination. The psychological impact of this realisation can be significant.’

The guidelines explore some of the specific factors that psychologists should consider while working with people who have fled their home countries. The authors point out that asylum seekers may assume practitioners are familiar with the politics and the human rights record of their country of origin, which may mean that they do not immediately disclose their experiences of human rights abuses, including torture, and psychologists may need to ask about this. People who have been forced to leave their homes encounter multiple losses, of home, culture, family, their professions, language, friends and their plans for the future. Inevitably many people in this situation will have experienced trauma.

Professor Jamie Hacker Hughes, a former President of the Society who set up the taskforce, an expert group that included academic and practitioner clinical, community, counselling, educational and occupational psychologists, said: ‘As a discipline and a profession, psychology has a wealth of knowledge, experience and talent to apply in this area to help improve the lives of those who have fled their countries and are seeking safety. Psychological evidence and practice can help to equip individuals, organisations and communities with the knowledge, skills and understanding that they need in order to help them navigate challenging experiences in a complex world.’ 

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