Integration measures as an Investment into a Sustainable Society – A Resilience Based Approach

Second-year Psychology students participating in the University Honours College follow a mini-course on Blogging Science (within the Thematic Meetings course), in which they learn to communicate science to the general public, by means of informing, giving an opinion, and relating issues in science to issues in society. This year a selection of these written blog posts is published on Mindwise. Today’s post is by Joel Fischer.

 

In mid 2015, I was involved in a local integration program in my hometown in Germany.  In this program, I had conversations with people who fled from war and experienced the blank fear of death. A story that stayed with me was that of Amir*, who swam for more than 3 hours in the ocean before he was able to cross borders safely. Surprisingly, when I talked to him he was really optimistic about the new situation he was now facing. This enthusiasm unfortunately diminished in the following weeks, when he showed me the struggles of his new daily life. In an effort to help people like Amir, I would like to use this blog to explore which psychological factors may enhance the coping abilities of refugees.

 

Consequently, I argue that it is crucial to promote resilience among refugees to allow for better integration and ultimately a sustainable society.

Resilience is the power of a dynamic system to cope with stress and recover from significant challenges (Masten, 2011). Such a capacity is useful and healthy, since constant psychological and physical stress are associated with symptoms such as headache, panic attacks and an increased risk for psychiatric and physiological disorders (Cohen, Janicki-Deverts, Miller, 2007). These negative effects may result from stress in general, or complex traumatic experience in particular, both of which are common among refugees. It is common sense that an encounter with a negatively affected individual can often be difficult in both communicative exchange and mutual understanding. Consequently, I argue that it is crucial to promote resilience among refugees to allow for better integration and ultimately a sustainable society.

Across the literature key factors to promote resilience are identified such as autonomy, sense of purpose, and the ability to participate (Rivera, Lynch, Li, & Obamehinti, 2016). These factors may be categorised at different levels and offer plenty of opportunities for interventions. Repeatedly named, the reduction of a language barrier, financial safety, and access to both health care and legal representation are the most common basic needs (Hopkins & Hill, 2010; Weine et al., 2014). At the individual level, the most frequently identified factors are personal agency, a sense of purpose, and aspiration for the future (Edge, Newbold, & McKeary, 2014). Lastly, the family level comprises elements such as the absence/ presence of family members, family unity, and a healthy communication among family members. Taken together, these factors provide concrete starting points for practical interventions.

 

From this point on, there was no ultimate guide of how to appropriately treat the refugees, thus every country followed their own immigration policies and provides services accordingly.

Dealing with 1.3 million asylum seekers in 2015, the EU’s first priority was to provide all asylum seekers with shelter, fresh water and hygiene. Subsequently, asylum seekers could apply for a refugee status at their country of choice. From this point on, there was no ultimate guide of how to appropriately treat the refugees, thus every country followed their own immigration policies and provides services accordingly. In the following, I will focus on Germany, since I have first-hand experiences with the circumstances there in 2015.

At the level of basic needs, most services such as financial autonomy and health care are relatively well organised. Additionally, the German government provides measures to overcome the issues of language barriers through entitling the youth and young adults to free German lessons. Although this educational entitlement exists, many language institutions at smaller communities provide certain language courses only at an irregular basis. This irregularity is mainly due to a lack of resources, thus resulting in few courses with overcrowded groups. Consequently, the quality of teaching is poor and the reduction of the language barrier is only semi-successful. A possible solution for this issue is the installation of shared language facilities in neighbouring communities. Preferably, other alternatives include the involvement of local volunteers as language coaches.

 

Refugees in Germany are excluded from the job market by law in the first months after arrival. After this period, it is an effortful and bureaucratic process towards employment due to other legal restrictions.

The most negatively affected factors at the individual level concern both personal agency and aspiration for the future. That is, refugees in Germany are excluded from the job market by law in the first months after arrival. After this period, it is an effortful and bureaucratic process towards employment due to other legal restrictions. These laws in combination with a lack of leisure activities undermine an individual’s feelings of autonomy and aspiration for a future career. To promote resilience of refugees, employment laws should be changed to make working (at least on a voluntary basis) possible for refugees and it is advisable to provide an increased width of leisure activities.

On the level of families, it is noteworthy that conservative parties are increasingly pledging to obstruct families of refugees to follow them into their country of choice. Moreover, reuniting families is currently a long and bureaucratic process, which leaves the closest family displaced in war zones. This situation undermines resilience, since family acts as a buffer for traumatic events or extreme stress. Alternative solutions could focus on multilingual documents to ease the process.

To conclude, the current practice comprises the right intentions, however, in part leads to negative outcomes within our society such as isolated and prone individuals. The take-home message is that indeed a half-hearted handling of refugees may harm the society but done correctly it can promote a healthy and sustainable society.

*Name has been changed to protect the individual’s privacy.

Note: Image by geralt, licensed by CC0

References

Cohen, S., Janicki-Deverts, D., Miller, G. E. (2007). “Psychological stress and disease”. JAMA. 298 (14): 1685–7. doi:10.1001/jama.298.14.1685.

 

Edge, S., Newbold, K. B., & McKeary, M. (2014). Exploring socio-cultural factors that mediate, facilitate, & constrain the health and empowerment of refugee youth. Social Science & Medicine, 117, 34–41. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2014.07.025

 

Hopkins, P., & Hill, M. (2010). The needs and strengths of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children and young people in Scotland. Child & Family Social Work, 15, 399–408. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2206.2010.00687.x

 

Masten, A. S. (2011). Resilience in children threatened by extreme adversity: Frameworks for research, practice, and translational synergy. Development and Psychopathology, 23, 493–506. http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0954579411000198

 

Rivera, H., Lynch, J., Li, J., & Obamehinti, F. (2016). Infusing sociocultural perspectives into capacity building activities to meet the needs of refugees and asylum seekers. Canadian Psychology/Psychologie Canadienne, 57(4), 320-329. doi:10.1037/cap0000076

 

Weine, S. M., Ware, N., Hakizimana, L., Tugenberg, T., Currie, M., Dahnweih, G., . . . Wulu, J. (2014). Fostering resilience: Protective agents, resources, and mechanisms for adolescent refugees’ psychosocial well-being. Adolescent Psychiatry, 4, 164–176. http://dx.doi.org/10.2174/221067660403140912162410

Joel is second-year psychology student. His main interests comprise health and its psychological and physiological determinants. Generally, he is curious about issues of health within a sustainable society. This includes for instance research about resilience as well as research about preventive measures for diseases.


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