Reach Out to Refugees with PTSD

refugee and child in a camp

Do you remember what it was like to cram for a test in high school or college? You made sure that everything you could possibly need to know was fresh in your mind so you would be ready to answer any question that might be thrown at you. Then, at some point after the test, all or most of that knowledge slowly faded from memory.

Don’t let that happen with what you’ve learned over the last 4 years about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Knowing how to walk alongside those with PTSD will come in handy as WMU shifts its focus for Project HELP to refugees beginning with the 2018–19 church year.

Awareness

PTSD can occur after someone goes through a traumatic event like combat, assault, or disaster. Refugees have been forced to flee their home country because of persecution, natural disaster, war, or violence. But the trauma doesn’t necessarily stop for refugees once they make it to their asylum country or their resettlement country. They are often forced to confront isolation, hostility, violence, and racism. In refugee camps, they often encounter overcrowding, rampant infectious diseases, and primitive living conditions.

Just as all military veterans, domestic violence victims, and natural disaster survivors don’t develop PTSD, not all refugees develop it either. Some adjust well to not being able to go home. But with 22.5 million refugees in the world today, it is likely that many will suffer “significant psychological distress as a result of their exposure to traumatic events and the hardships associated with life as a refugee.”1

In 2017, nearly 25,000 refugees were resettled to the United States. According to the UN Refugee Agency, resettlement to the US is traditionally offered to the “most vulnerable” refugees, including women and children, the elderly, survivors of violence and torture, and those with critical medical needs. It is estimated that up to 25 percent of refugees entering the US have PTSD.

Action

One of the most healing resources for someone who suffers from PTSD is community. For refugees, too, community is key to helping them integrate into society. Of course, being in community is one of the core functions of the church.

As you may have done to minister to those with PTSD, form a care team in your church to assist refugees who have been resettled in your area. Create a loving community around them and a safe place to share. Listen (without commentary) if they want to talk about why they became refugees, the country they left behind, or what they are doing now. Show compassion as they grieve the loss of home, family, friends, jobs, and all things familiar. Bear their burdens. Most importantly, offer love. Guide them to the healing love and peace of the Savior, as many refugees do not know Him.

Advocacy

Not everyone lives in a state that resettles refugees, but everyone can support them. Consider these ideas to get you started:

  • Become a prayer advocate. Pray faithfully and fervently for things all refugees need: emotional healing, hope, relationships, salvation. Invite others to pray with you. Share prayer requests for refugees at prayer meetings or through church communication channels like the weekly bulletin or daily email. Consider holding a prayer vigil on World Refugee Day, June 20.
  • Use social media. Share why you are passionate about supporting and welcoming refugees, and encourage friends, family members, and others to speak out on their behalf. Check out these free images and messages from WMU. 
  • Support refugee artisans. WorldCrafts works with artisan groups employing refugees in the United States and around the world. The women of Begin Anew Refugee Artisan Group suffered unspeakable horrors in their home countries but are finding new life in Nashville. They are learning to screen print by hand a variety of items to earn additional income for their families. You can even custom order tote bags for events from this group. Making paper-bead jewelry is helping the artisans of Back to Africa—most of whom are single mothers or refugees or both—escape extreme poverty in Kenya. The jewelry created by the women of Refugee Beads provides needed income for their families, along with hope and a sense of community in the Atlanta area.

1ptsd.va.gov/professional/trauma/other/ptsd-refugees.asp

Kathleen Penton is an assistant editor with WMU.

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