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Three young children walk in a refugee camp. ;

Refugee mental health: understanding place, politics and migration

Here in the UK, refugees and migrants face challenging conditions upon arrival – fuelled by anti-immigration policies and structural violence in the form of racism, discrimination and marginalisation. All of this has been shown to detrimentally affect their lives and lead to worse health and mental health outcomes. The 2022 Refugee Mental Health & Place Network conference sought to explore these challenges and to help create an opportunity to support these communities.

Home Secretary, Priti Patel has announced her plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda. Meanwhile, the UK is seeing ongoing debates around the National Borders Bill. Yet, despite the evident hostility, refugees and migrants – together with civil society organisations and activists – are actively challenging current power dynamics and inequalities through political, legal, social and creative interventions to create spaces and places for resistance, healing and thriving.

The 2022 Refugee Mental Health & Place Network inaugural conference was an opportunity to evidence and critically discuss how 'place' constitutes and affects refugee mental health in a post-migration context. This includes the social, material, cultural, environmental, political and institutional dimensions and characteristics of 'place.'

The stimulating keynote address was delivered by Maya Goodfellow, author of the acclaimed book, Hostile Environment: How Immigrants Become Scapegoats. Her talk was followed by interdisciplinary panels, a round table and a powerful poetry break focusing on place and mental health, solidarity and networks, sexual and gender-based violence, bordering higher education, and mental health and psychosocial interventions in the refugee and migration context.

Conference highlights

The roots and impacts of the hostile environment in Britain: racism, discrimination and disposability


Keynote lecture: Maya Goodfellow, a writer and academic, specialising in the relationships between race, bordering and capitalism. She is currently Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellow at SPERI, the University of Sheffield, where she is conducting a research project exploring these themes. Through this work Maya is particularly concerned with the politics of 'the centre' and the material elements of racism.

Solidarities and networks

  • Elaine Chase (Senior Lecturer in Education, Health Promotion and International Development, UCL) speaks about building solidarities through research.
  • Rachel Tribe (Professor of Psychology at the School of Psychology, UEL and the Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health, Queen Mary, University of London) speaks about developing partnerships around mental health with refugee and migrant community organisations.
  • Sohail Jannesari (Researcher, King's) speaks about the mental health importance of spaces of safety and stability amidst the insecurity of migration journeys.

Sexual and gender-based violence

  • Sandra Pertek (Research Fellow, University of Birmingham) speaks about adapted religious coping mechanisms among forced migrant survivors of sexual and gender-based violence.
  • Jeanine Hourani (Researcher, University of Birmingham): How structural violence exacerbates mental ill-health risks and consequences for forced migrant survivors of intimate partner violence.
  • Helen Liebling (Assistant Professor, Coventry University) and Hazel Barrett (Professor in Development Geography, Coventry University) speak about experiences and the impact of sexual and gender-based violence and torture amongst south Sudanese refugees living in northern Uganda.

Bordering higher education: Discussing experiences, practices and alternatives for refugees and migrants

  • This round table discussion includes Fuad Trayed (Researcher, King's), Samuel Remi-Akinwale (Researcher, King's) and Katie Barringer (Refugee Education UK).
  • It was hosted by Francesca Meloni (Lecturer in Social Justice, King's) and Leonie Ansems De Vries (Reader in International Politics, King's).

Mental health and asylum systems

  • Zara Asif (Researcher, King's) speaks about structural barriers to refugee, asylum seeker and undocumented migrant healthcare access in the UK’s ‘hostile environment’.
  • Brian Dikoff (Migrants Organise) speaks about mental capacity as a barrier to justice in the immigration system.
  • Sara Alsaraf (PhD student, University of Birmingham) speaks about participatory research into the mental health impact of the asylum process with migrants in the UK.

The role of place

  • Ayesha Ahmad (Senior Lecturer in Global Health, St George's University of London) speaks about cradles and graves of land trauma in refugee narratives.
  • Guntars Ermansons (Researcher, King's) speaks about neighbourhood context in the mental health of refugees.
  • Peter Schofield (Senior Lecturer in Population Health, King's) speaks about refugee mental health and the relevance of place in Denmark and the UK.

Poetry by Syed Haleem Najibi and Sayed Habib Sadat

Interventions, practices and critique

  • Nazee Akbari (Counsellor and Psychotherapist) speaks about the psychosocial framework and holistic model of support for refugees and asylum seekers
  • Claire Marshall (Senior Lecturer, University of East London speaks about a psychological perspective on The Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) guidelines on Mental Health And Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) in emergency settings.
  • Cornelius Katona ( Helen Bamber Foundation) speaks about whether the UK can develop accommodation centres for asylum seekers in a trauma-informed way.

About the 2022 Refugee Mental Health & Place Network inaugural conference

Held on 13 May 2022, the conference brought together 150 scholars, activists, artists and people with lived experience. 

It was organised by Peter Schofiled, Guntars Ermansons, Hanna Kienzler and Zara Asif – and supported by the UKRI Medical Research Council and the ESRC Centre for Society and Mental Health.

In this story

Hanna Kienzler

Hanna Kienzler

Professor of Global Health

Peter  Schofield

Peter Schofield

Senior Lecturer in Population Health

Guntars  Ermansons

Guntars Ermansons

Lecturer in Social Science, Health & Medicine

Zara Asif

Zara Asif

Research Assistant

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