Suggestions for Caregivers
by Dr. Ximena Fornazzari
In order to respond supportively to refugees, mental health and community workers must present themselves as competent professionals and concerned human beings. It is important to be able to listen carefully, be ready to help and give support without being paternalistic.
Since much communication between people occurs through non-verbal behaviour, learning even a little about non-verbal ways of communicating in the culture of the refugee-survivors with whom you are relating will help improve the quality of the contact. When communicating through an interpreter, be aware that the refugee may regard the interpreter as an informer, a potential betrayer who could endanger family and friends back home. Sometimes allowing the refugee and the interpreter to get to know each other helps to put the refugee at ease.
In general, professionals working with refugees need to increase their awareness and competence within the following areas:
• the effects of traumatization, including the clinical signs and symptoms with which survivors present;
• the effects of migration, taking into consideration that refugee-survivors are affected by a combination of stress, resulting from persecution, losses and adaptation;
• cultural differences; while is impossible to become a transcultural expert in all the different cultures to which refugees belong, we should have an increased awareness of cultural differences;
• professionals should also be prepared to teach their students and colleagues about these issues, and connect with community agencies to increase their awareness about refugees and survivors of torture.
Beyond developing greater awareness and sensitivity, communities that receive refugee survivors can go a long way towards meeting their needs by introducing the following services and policies:
• language and job training programs, including English as a Second Language (ESL) for women who are homebound as well as those who are acting as the head of the family (single mothers), with appropriate care for children while parents attend classes;
• orientation service for refugee families to familiarize them with the medical system and available programs, such as family counselling, programs for victims of domestic violence, groups for women who have been raped, etc.;
• effective system of social services that would provide counselling for families in need, ensuring that staff are trained in cultural awareness, as well as the effects of torture and exile;
• well-trained interpreters who are sensitive but calm, have a solid command of English, and who will translate with absolute accuracy and objectivity what the survivor recounts, rather than using their own experiences to interpret what they believe the survivor means and getting emotionally involved;
• development of groups for refugee-survivors who are seniors, as well as development of special programs in community agencies that work with this population;
• family reunification policies.
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