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NSW Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors

Understanding Refugee Trauma and Recovery: A Guide

In today’s world, millions of individuals are forcibly displaced from their homes due to conflict, persecution, and other forms of violence. This global refugee crisis demands our attention and understanding.

Let’s explore various aspects of refugee experiences, trauma, recovery, and the support systems in place.

Refugees and Organised Violence

People become refugees in the context of organised violence. This includes wars and other violent political conflicts that occur within or between states; and state-perpetrated or state-sanctioned violence such as genocide, repression, disappearances, torture and other abuses of human rights.

Impact of Persecution, Torture, and Forced Displacement

Refugees often endure profound trauma as a result of persecution, torture, and forced displacement. These experiences can have enduring effects on their mental health and well-being.

Challenges of Resettling in Australia

Trauma as a result of previous experiences of organised violence and forced displacement can have a negative impact on refugees’ ability to rebuild their lives in Australia. The complex challenges faced in Australia can in turn exacerbate trauma symptoms further complicating their capacity to heal, find a sense of belonging and integrate into society.

Australian Refugee Visas and Access to Services

It is important to know the visa types of Australia’s Humanitarian Program as different visa types grant different access to settlement services. Less access to settlement services increases vulnerability and the need for referral to alternative services, eg. Asylum seeker visas.

Issues and Services for Temporary Visa Holders and Asylum Seekers

Temporary visa holders and asylum seekers encounter unique challenges, such as uncertainty about their immigration status, limited access to healthcare and employment, and social isolation. It’s crucial to address these issues and provide adequate support.

Refugee Trauma Recovery Practice

Be guided by the refugee trauma recovery goals in all of your interactions with the people you assist. This includes restoring a sense safety and control, and promoting connections to others and a sense of belonging.

Culturally Safe Practice

Includes actions which respect the cultural identities of others, and safely meet their needs, expectations and rights. Workers have a duty of care to recognise their own biases and ensure they are not negatively impacting on the interaction with the person or being able to meet the person’s needs.

Engagement and Using Interpreters

Engaging with refugees necessitates cultural sensitivity and effective communication, particularly in the presence of language barriers. Utilising trained interpreters, when needed, is essential for meaningful engagement and creating a sense of safety and control.

Trauma Triggers

Refugees may encounter trauma triggers—situations, places, or events that evoke memories of past traumatic experiences. It is important that you recognise the common triggers in your workplace environment and practices and take steps to minimise their impact.

Setting Boundaries

Refugees may not be familiar with Australian services and how the worker can assist them. Therefore setting and maintaining boundaries are extra important with refugees to create predictability, manage expectations, and create safety and trust.

Vicarious Trauma, Burnout, and Self-Care

Supporting refugees can be emotionally taxing and may lead to vicarious trauma and burnout for service providers. Practicing self-care, seeking supervision and support, and developing healthy coping mechanisms are essential for maintaining well-being.

In conclusion, addressing the needs of refugees and asylum seekers necessitates a comprehensive understanding of their experiences, trauma, and recovery journeys. By prioritising cultural safety, trauma-informed practice, and self-care, we can better support these resilient individuals and communities as they rebuild their lives.

Discover more about each of these concepts at our workshop “Core Concepts in Working with People from Refugee Backgrounds,” led by Matthew Potts. Explore the event details at the following link.


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