The Refugee Crisis – A Literature Overview

Syrian Refugee | Flickr - Photo Sharing! : taken from - Bengin Ahmad

Syrian Refugee Author: Bengin Ahmad CC-BY-ND 2.0 license.

The ongoing refugee crisis led to the European Federation of Psychological Associations (EFPA) recently urging governments and agencies to engage with psychologists across the EU to coordinate efforts and deal with the refugee crisis. The crisis does, of course, raise a number of serious issues about how best we can support those fleeing war zones. With this in mind, I take a look at some of the key issues regarding psychology and the refugee crisis.

Aid workers

The Guardian reports that there is a mental health crisis amongst aid workers. Following a mental health and wellbeing survey on the newspaper’s Global Development Professional Network, they found that 79% of the 754 respondents reported that they had experienced mental health issues. Over 93% believed that these mental health issues were associated with their work.

In a paper written for the British Journal of Social Work, Kim Robinson investigates the demands and issues faced by social workers in providing support for newly arrived communities. Robinson’s paper is based on a qualitative study conducted in 2006-11 with thirty front line workers. The study offers a comparison of support provided in the UK and Australia. [Access here with your Athens login.]

Mohammad Abo-Hilal and Omar Said Yousef, both refugees, write a brief report for Peace & Conflict about their non-profit organisation Syria Bright Future. As a consequence of the persecution they had faced in Syria, both fled to Jordan where they met and began working with Syrian refugees in Jordan, providing exploratory evaluation appointments and follow-up treatment sessions. [Access here with your Athens login.]

Akoury-Dirani et al (2015) examine the efficacy of a national training programme in psychological first aid (PFA) in Lebanon. Trainees received a 2.5 day training on PFA and screening for mental health disorders in children. Evaluation took place before, immediately after and a period of time after the completion of the training. The data of sixty participants were analysed to evaluate the training. [Access here with your Athens login.]

Harrison et al (2013) report on the UNHCR’s mental health and psychosocial support programme for Iraqi refugees and internally displaced Syrians [full text accessible here].


Rhodes et al (2014) explores the experience of refugees diagnosed with psychosis. The study is based on interviews with seven refugees from a clinical service. Six main themes emerged: bleak agitated immobility, trauma-related voices and visions, fear and mistrust of others, the sense of a broken self, the pain of losing everything, and the attraction of death. This paper was also reviewed by Christian Jarrett for Research Digest (available here). You can read the full paper here (Athens login required).

Mueller et al (2011) studied the mental health of failed asylum seekers through structured interviews with participants. They found that the long asylum processes and withdrawal of social welfare benefits were particularly problematic. Furthermore, they noted high rates of psychopathology amongst rejected asylum seekers. [Full paper hereAthens login required.]

Stephanie Parker (2015) looks at the violence against Syrian female refugees, noting that gender based violence is one of the “most salient features of the current conflict”. Parker also highlights the exploitation of Syrian women as they seek to escape the violence engulfing the country. [Full paper available hereAthens login required.]

Children and adolescents

Kronick et al (2015) examine the detention of children and parents seeking asylum in Canada. Taking a qualitative approach, the study sought to understand the experiences of detained children and families using semistructured interviews and ethnographic participant observation. The authors note that the experience is “acutely stressful” for the children and that they should not be detained on immigration grounds and that parents should not be detained without their children. [Full text hereAthens login required.]

Bronstein et al (2012) examined the mental health of Afghan unaccompanied asylum seeking children in the UK, seeking to identify an estimate of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) within this particular group. The authors conclude that future research should consider approaching mental health issues from a resilience perspective. [Full text hereAthens login required.]

Published as Open Access, Unterhitzenberger et al’s case study evaluates the feasibility of trauma-focused cognitive behavioural therapy for unaccompanied refugee minors with posttraumatic stress symptoms. The participants included minors that had arrived in Germany 12-25 months before baseline assessment and the majority had completed basic school education. However, due to the small sample size (six individuals), the authors note that the study has limitations and cannot be generalised. The full paper is available here.

Other resources

UEL hosts the Refugee Council Archive. You can access the Refugee Archives blog here. You can also visit the Living Refugee Archive Digital Library a pilot project funded by the University of East London’s Civic Engagement Fund.

You can find out more about the Refugee Council here.

Young Roots – a charity supporting young refugees and asylum seekers.

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) website is here.

The UNHCR’s Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees is accessible here [pdf].

The Refugee Council publish regular briefings on statistics about refugees and asylum. You can view those briefings here.

The Home Office produce statistics on immigration, including asylum. These statistics are available here.

All of the materials above are freely available online or are accessible through UEL’s online subscriptions. If you need any assistance in conducting a literature search, please contact me using via the contact option at the top of this page.


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