Challenge to Australians to assist refugees on their journey to health and stability

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Reflecting on the Refugee Week theme of 'journeys,' Australian Psychological Society (APS) President Amanda Gordon says a lot can be done to make refugees' journeys less stressful.

"The first thing we need to do is to limit the amount of time that we leave people in detention centres, and especially in remote or offshore centres," says Gordon. "There is so much evidence available about the negative effects of long term detention on asylum seekers' and refugees' mental health."

A paper presented at the recent APS annual conference showed that lengthy stays in detention centres have also been found to hinder young people's perceptions of their ability to function in a new society (Murgia & Thomas, 2006).

"Beyond these policy issues, there are lots of things that individuals can do to help welcome refugees to Australia, and support them as they try to establish a new home in an unfamiliar place," says Gordon.

"It is important to remember that many refugees who arrive in Australia have a history of trauma. Grief and loss are often major themes in their lives. The journey to a safe country is more than finding a physically safe place - it's a journey of loss and grief, and then rebuilding and healing. It is the rebuilding and healing stage of the journey that we can contribute to."

Gordon says that it is very important to help refugee parents cope. "There is a lot of research telling us that children and young people do better when their parents, particularly the mothers, are coping well emotionally."

"And don't forget the simple power of a kind smile when you see unfamiliar faces in your community. These little gestures can mean so much to people living amongst strangers."

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Clare Johnstone
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Australian Psychological Society
03 8662 3363
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