Towards the improvement of mental health protection in the transit context
By Draga Sapic, Dragana Knezic and Masa Vukcevic Markovic, Consortium on Refugees’ and Migrants’ Mental Health (CoReMH)
Note: For better readability and simplicity, the term “refugee” will be used throughout the text regardless of the persons legal status.
There are 82.4 million forcibly displaced people in the world who had to flee their homes in order to escape war, persecution and human right violations, out of which more than 30 million seek refuge outside their home countries. In searching for safety, refugees are traveling across several established transit routes, one of them being the “Balkan route” stretching from Turkey to Western Europe through the Balkan peninsula. For the majority, this journey includes numerous life-threatening situations, such as violence, hunger, separation from family members and poor living conditions*. In addition, the journey to the destination country can last from several months to several years**, with the tendency of extending even more due to border closure and the COVID-19 pandemic. This increase in the time spent in transit can lead to different repercussions, including higher risk of mental health vulnerability among people on the move in the transit countries. For instance, this year’s results of the mental health screening of refugees passing along the Balkan route (PIN, 2021) show that 85% of refugees are psychologically vulnerable, i.e., are in need of psychological support or mental health care, which reveals a negative trend in the overall psychological vulnerability when compared to previous years.
In an effort to address different mental health challenges refugees face in transit context, the Consortium on Refugees’ and Migrants’ Mental Health (CoReMH) was established in December 2020. CoReMH is a network of mental health professionals working with asylum seekers, refugees and migrants, focusing primarily on countries on the transit route and interventions to be applied in that context. CoReMH is devoted to identifying and addressing prominent issues in mental health protection for refugees, asylum seekers and migrants, through evidence-based practice, research and advocacy work. In particular, CoReMH recognizes that transit is an evolving and under-researched context with unique needs and methodological challenges for mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS). The aim of CoReMH is to establish a common framework for the provision of MHPSS services to the refugee, asylum seeker and migrant populations in the transit countries. The work of CoReMH is organized in 4 Working Groups:
- Policy and Practice,
- Advocacy and Networking
- Capacity Building.
CoReMH currently has 23 members from 10 countries along the transit route.
In its first year, CoReMH has successfully launched several initiatives, one of them being an advocacy brief regarding the impact of the new Screening Regulation, a part of the EU Pact on Migration and Asylum. The second advocacy initiative addressed the human rights and mental health needs of people on the move from Afghanistan, after the recent events in their home country, and necessary measures to secure adequate MHPSS response. Furthermore, research has been conducted in order to identify challenges in the provision of MHPSS services in the transit context, as well as recommended adaptations in order to inform future work. Finally, the mapping of availability, range and scope of MHPSS services in CoReMH member countries is currently in progress.
CoReMH has identified the need for rethinking MHPSS practices in the transit context, and has gathered MHPSS experts from ten countries along the route that will continue joint work towards improving MHPSS practices and policies, thus ensuring support and care for those in need.
* Purić D, Vukčević Marković M. Development and validation of the Stressful Experiences in Transit Questionnaire (SET-Q) and its Short Form (SET-SF). Eur J Psychotraumatol. 2019 May 16;10(1):1611091. doi: 10.1080/20008198.2019.1611091
* Vukčević, M., Dobrić, J., & Purić, D. (2014). Mental health of asylum seekers in Serbia. Serbia, Belgrade: UNHCR
* Hebebrand, J., Anagnostopoulos, D., Eliez, S., Linse, H., Pejovic-Milovancevic, M., & Klasen, H. (2016). A first assessment of the needs of young refugees arriving in Europe: what mental health professionals need to know.
* Farhat, J. B., Blanchet, K., Bjertrup, P. J., Veizis, A., Perrin, C., Coulborn, R. M., ... & Cohuet, S. (2018). Syrian refugees in Greece: experience with violence, mental health status, and access to information during the journey and while in Greece. BMC medicine, 16(1), 1-12.
** Purić D, Vukčević Marković M. Development and validation of the Stressful Experiences in Transit Questionnaire (SET-Q) and its Short Form (SET-SF). Eur J Psychotraumatol. 2019 May 16;10(1):1611091. doi: 10.1080/20008198.2019.1611091