Young Refugees Deserve More

A recent article by Rosemary Newton in the Vancouver Sun commented that “61% of government-assisted Syrian refugees are under the age 18”. Reading this article stimulated my memory of working as a psychologist, in a Western Australian refugee camp. Our job, as psychologists, was to get refugees ready to move into Australian society. These were the lucky ones, who had already made it this far. The children and adolescents would be taken on a school bus to a local primary or secondary school, appropriate for their age. My days were filled by face to face counselling with adults, mostly with the aid of an interpreter. Sometimes, children would be with their parents during these sessions.

Rosemary Newton wrote that many youths would face depression. “Many of them are entering their second year as refugees in Canada and are experiencing trauma related to the stress of adapting to a new culture. Others have experienced or witnessed abuse.” These insights certainly were reflected in my own experience in Australia. When I had the opportunity to be with these vulnerable and precious young people, I would teach them to express their ideas of the abuse. They often needed help to find feeling words to voice these discomforts. Sometimes they needed help to find words that expressed a victory. These were wonderful moments.

I read another article, by Alison Bowen of the Chicago Tribune about how refugees were reporting fear, with President Trump’s moves to restrict arrivals.

Young people are adaptable, but we have to understand that young refugee lives have been filled with an extra layer of violence and hardship that many of us have never experienced. Trump and other leaders in the media have a huge influence on the mental health of people in these precarious and frightening circumstances.

Bowen writes that health professionals understand that “treating anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are an integral part of helping refugees resettle and avoid isolation, depression or other unintended consequences, including radicalization”.

With so many of refugees being young, psychologists and care workers have a huge job to overcome the careless words of world leaders, appeasing their domestic racial prejudice. We can all play a part in calling them to account. Young, innocent refugees deserve this from us.