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Speaker at Refugee, Mental Health and Place Conference
May 13 @ 8:00 am - 5:00 pm
Title: The mental health importance of spaces of safety and stability amidst the insecurity of migration journeys.
Background: Over the last two decades, increasing numbers of Iranians and Afghans have sought sanctuary in the UK, most recently with 15,000 Afghan evacuees arriving after the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in 2021. Evidence suggests that these arrivals may have high rates of mental health needs. Yet, when sanctuary seekers arrive in the UK, they are often met with substantial mental health stressors related to the asylum system. I investigated how the asylum process affected the mental health of Iranian and Afghan sanctuary seekers, and how space and place were important to understanding both stressors and coping mechanisms.
Methods: I interviewed 40 Iranians and Afghans using in-depth and walking interviews (to understand how space affects mental health). I analysed these interviews using reflexive thematic analysis and poetic analysis.
Results: Findings demonstrated how participants had few stable physical spaces in which to feel safe and recover from difficult migration, and postmigration, experiences. Being housed during the asylum process in unhygienic and isolated accommodation was described as perpetuating feelings of instability, insecurity, and rootlessness among sanctuary seekers. Forced dispersal during the asylum process also led to the loss of social networks. sanctuary seekers should be accommodated in urban centres linked to diaspora, voluntary sector, and sanctuary seeking community networks, close to amenities, and in clean housing.
Conclusions: Good practice guidance on asylum seeker housing emphasises the importance of creating local networks of service providers and community organisations to coordinate inclusion, bring people together. My study suggests that the recent Nationality and Borders Bill might have severe negative mental health consequences for sanctuary seekers, in its plans to process people 800 miles away from the UK and house people in isolated military barracks.