During Refugee Week, we took some time to reflect on the issues that force people to flee from their countries and their loved ones. Our aim was to try and understand the impact that fleeing from war and persecution has on people’s mental health, made worse when one arrives in a country where they don’t understand the language, culture, or system. When we talk about integration, let’s include asylum seekers' and refugees’ voices in mainstream forums so that they feel less isolated and ultimately empowered to thrive in their new homes.
Our responsibility to protect and safeguard refugees
I know only too well the consequences of divisions and armed conflict, precisely what drove my family and me away from my country to seek a new life in Scotland.
Sadly, we live in a world that “has a population of 70.8 million forcibly displaced people” of which 29.9 million are refugees. According to the UNHCR, in 2018 28 people were forced to flee their homes every minute. Behind every statistic, there is a person and a life that matters; all of us deserve a chance to fulfil our aspirations and dreams. Beyond the moral argument, let’s remember our legal responsibilities to protect and safeguard refugees under the 1951 Refugee Convention.
Advocating for refugees and their mental health needs
We are currently celebrating Refugee Festival Scotland and the meaningful contribution refugees make in our society. This is an opportunity to connect communities but also to raise awareness of the experiences of asylum seekers and refugees here in Scotland.
In our journey to “help people to thrive through understanding, protecting, and sustaining their mental health”, we have established the Refugee Health Policy and Strategy Action Group, a national project equipping asylum seekers and refugees to take a greater role in advocating on issues of mental health and wellbeing, both locally and nationally.
In line with national policy frameworks such as the New Scots Strategy and Volunteering for All, we have helped establish a pool of mental health advocates to address the longstanding issue that refugees are less likely to receive mental health support than the general population, due to cultural and language barriers and stigma.
Creating a voice and visibility for refugees
While we are proud of the vision of the New Scots Strategy, Scotland’s innovative plan for the integration of asylum seekers and refugees, we must also ensure that individuals and groups are fully included in society.
The Refugee Health Policy and Strategy Action Group are focusing in Glasgow on how asylum seekers and refugees can have a better voice and visibility in health, housing and education civic forums. In North Lanarkshire, Syrian refugees are engaging with the local community through storytelling and individuals are connecting with their neighbours by being the authors of their stories. In North Ayrshire, we are exploring gardening as a means of social enterprise.
A reflection on "Border and Boundaries"
There comes a time when one needs to pause and reflect, and I was fortunate to have had that last week in Northern Ireland. I was delighted to receive an invitation from the Social Change Initiative to attend their annual convening to explore the theme of “border and boundaries”. It was an amazing opportunity to meet new people and to reflect and learn from some formidable global human rights leaders.
Alongside the discussions, I was exposed to the issues of contested space and segregation along the peace walls in North and West Belfast. At a time of UK-wide division, it was great to disconnect from the general narrative, instead meeting and learning from local people, who possess encyclopaedic insights into the Troubles (with the consequent impact on people and communities), as well as conflict resolution and reconciliation.
I had enlightening conversations about the potential repercussions of Brexit with individuals involved in the peacebuilding process, and what that might mean for the future of Great Britain. As put by a fellow participant, it was truly an “eye-opening, brain-popping” experience.
I found the engagements enhanced my understanding of the context and made me think deeper about the meaning of it all; I confess that I was challenged by the concept of “peace walls”, the role of identity in the conflict and the legitimizations of segregated communities. It was too close to my own heart and experiences.
Refugee programmes and resources
Explore our programmes about refugees and helping their mental health.
Refugees and asylum seekers: statistics
Asylum seekers and refugees face unique and complex challenges related to their mental health. They are often at greater risk of developing mental health problems.