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Celebrating World Refugee Day

17 June 2022

June 20th marks World Refugee Day. It’s a day to reflect on the challenges refugees and asylum seekers face worldwide and come together to develop solutions to those challenges.

I am part of an international team looking to address the challenges refugees and asylum seekers face when trying to access health care and to address the mental and physical health challenges arising from experiencing trauma.

We recently completed the first phase, the MIST study, and learned a lot of valuable lessons. The two most valuable being, the importance of time and communication. The aim of the MIST project was to interview refugee and asylum seekers, 3rd sector workers who provide support to refugees and asylum seekers, and NHS staff to understand what support was available for refugees and asylum seekers who have experienced torture and trauma and the barriers to accessing that support. The projected was funded Wellcome Trust Institutional Partner Translational of Concept award.

We started by approaching several 3rd sector organisations who provide a range of support to refugees and asylum seekers. The goal was to involve them both as participants in the research and to help the study team to recruit refugees and asylum seekers to take part in the interviews.

The most challenging aspect was getting the 3rd sector organisations to agree to advertise the study and to help identify suitable participants. It was necessary to have several meetings to discuss the study, our goals for the research project (both short term and long term), and the risks to the refugees/asylum seekers. These organisations wanted to make sure we had a long-term plan for how we were going to develop the project.

Some of the organisations had concerns about the risk of causing distress to refugees/asylum seekers and were reluctant to take part. While this is an important concern and one the study team had as well, it can deny agency to those refugees who want to participate in the study. During the interviews many of the refugees talked about the importance of being listened to and being able to share their experiences. In the future, I would want to involve a refugee/asylum seeker in the discussions about the study when first approaching the 3rd sector organisation to take part or to advertise the study. The refugee/asylum can talk about their experiences in taking part and why this work is important to the wider community.

I also made myself available to the discus the study over the phone or email with the refugees/asylum seekers who were interested in taking part. These discussions allowed me to give them a bit more information about the study but more importantly was an opportunity to introduce myself and start the process of building trust. In the future, I think it would be helpful to produce a video to explain the study and who the research team is. The video would be a more accessible and engaging format to share information about the work we are doing and to introduce the study team.

We were successful in meeting our recruitment targets for refugees and asylum seekers and 3rd sector organisations despite the challenges. I am really looking forward to further developing our project and putting into practices some of the lessons we learned during the MIST study.