Well-being service for refugees. Why do we need it and how does it work?

Supporting people traumatised from fleeing their home country 

Fleeing a war-torn home country is a traumatic experience, leaving a lasting imprint on those who manage to escape. 

The eastern region’s Strategic Migration Partnership (SMP) has been working with the Refugee Council and Health Outreach in Suffolk to establish therapy and counselling services for refugees and unaccompanied asylum-seeking children to support them in rebuilding their lives. 

Louise Gooch at the SMP, said: “Refugees and child asylum seekers have fled their home countries for a variety of reasons, and they can take the trauma of that journey with them. 

“It is crucial we help them to work through this trauma and to support them in their new lives and new communities here in the UK.” 

Bahareh Saremi, from the Refugee Council said: “They could have come from a war-torn country, or from a country where they are a persecuted minority. 

“They could have a background of being sexually abused or being victims of domestic violence and this is why they have fled their country. 

“But one thing they share is they all have some experience of separation because they are all leaving something behind. They are all taking their roots and planting them somewhere else. 

“The uncertainty, the trauma of leaving their home is something they have all experienced.” 

The SMP’s Wellbeing and Work for Refugee Integration Project (WW4RI) has supported over 1,500 refugees to access counselling, find employment and become economically active since 2020. 

Thanks to funding from the Asylum Migration Integration Fund (AMIF), the SMP works in collaboration with organisations such as Refugee, Asylum Seeker and Migrant Action (RAMA) in Essex. RAMA hosts the council therapists and provides various support services, including therapy and counselling. 

Shireen Dossa is a therapist with the Refugee Council who works with RAMA. 

She said: “The youngest client I have is five-years-old but I am seeing people up to 18 or 19 years old too. 

“This has been extended to seeing adult women who may not feel comfortable seeing a male therapist. 

“There are a huge range of experiences people have depending on where they have come from and the journey they have taken on get to the UK. 

“There is a lot of fear and uncertainty and stress involved in making that journey from their home country.” 

Maria Wilby, from RAMA, said: “Being able to refer people to experts in employment and mental health we can trust is beyond measure. 

“We can have people come to us with multiple complex issues with trauma. 

“But a lot of our work is about creating new communities. 

“For example, we have a therapeutic garden project and have one shed with a grape vine on it, and people used to take the grapes to eat or to make juice. 

“But we had some more clients come down recently who started picking the leaves and creating Dolmas, stuffed grape leaves, with them. 

“Then we noticed all the other people using the service started doing it too and cooking Dolmas together. Before you knew it we had a whole community cooking Dolmas. 

“It is things like that, learning from each other and creating new communities.” 

For more information on the WW4RI project, visit www.smp.eelga.gov.uk/ww4ri-employing-refugees