Back to top

Refugee Trauma

Many refugees, especially children, have experienced trauma related to war or persecution that may affect their mental and physical health long after the events have occurred. These traumatic events may occur while the refugees are in their country of origin, during displacement from their country of origin, or in the resettlement process here in the US.

While in their country of origin, refugee children may have experienced violence or war (as witnesses, victims, and/or perpetrators); lack of food, water, shelter, or medical care; torture; forced labor; sexual assault; and loss of loved ones. During displacement, refugee children often face many of the same types of traumatic events or hardships, as well as new experiences such as living in refugee camps, separation from family, loss of community, harassment by local authorities, and detention. Once resettled in the US, refugees may continue to face traumatic stress, as well as Acculturation Stress (e.g., new school environments), Resettlement Stress (e.g., financial hardship), and Isolation (e.g., discrimination).

Effects

Events that refugees have experienced related to war or persecution can all be called “traumatic events.”

Screening and Assessment

When assessing trauma and mental health symptoms in refugee children, providers should attend to engagement and cultural considerations as important first steps.

Interventions

Refugee children and adolescents exhibit resilience despite a history of trauma. However, trauma can affect a refugee child’s emotional and behavioral development.