How does the asylum process affect people’s mental health?

This study aimed to understand the mental health support Iranians and Afghans going through the asylum process rely on. To answer this question I conducted in-depth and walking interviews with Iranians and Afghans who had sought asylum, people who worked with them in a professional capacity, and members of their community. I spoke to around 40 people in total. Click here for recommendations for mental health practitioners, and click here for recommendations for charities.  


In-depth interviews

Sedentary interviews were conducted face-to-face at a location chosen by the participant or over the phone at the participant’s convenience.

Walking interviews

Walking interviews were conducted while walking with the participant. The route was chosen by the participant and related to their experience of the asylum process.


Thematic and poetic analysis produced major sets of findings on:

1) ‘having a purpose through the asylum process’ – how sanctuary seekers resilience and resourcefulness was crucial to good mental health. this was helped by the provision of timely information. Volunteering could also help people move forward while waiting in the asylum process. It counteracted the marginalisation, victimisation and worthlessness that people reported feeling. 

2) ‘talking about and processing migration experiences – there was a mental health need for a safe and stable space to process difficult migration experiences, as well as  witnesses to sanctuary seeker suffering. Mentors and peers were critical in listening to and believing sanctuary seeker stories. These factors combatted the instability, invisibility and gaslighting of the asylum process.

3) ‘community and belonging’ – demonstrated how community can help people manage the mental health impacts associated with the daily deprivation of the asylum process. However, this was not always forthcoming from a seemingly judgemental diaspora. Accordingly, people turned to cross-ethnic, transnational, sanctuary seeking communities. 

4) ‘accessing mainstream mental health support’ – discussed how mainstream mental health support was difficult to access due to language issues and pressure on services. Whatever support sanctuary seekers managed to avail themselves of, it needed to last well beyond the conclusion of the asylum process.

Example poems from the poetic analysis

I used poetic analysis to familiarise myself with people’s words. This is an analytical method that selects and rearranges
participants’ answers to create a poetic version of their response. Anonymised and pseudonymised example poems are below: