Psychosocial Support Crucial for Migrants says IOM Expert

Migration Health

Thailand - The stressors that migration brings can affect the well-being of migrants and hamper their integration, but unfortunately, psychosocial needs of migrants are often downplayed and misunderstood.

IOM’s Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific yesterday hosted a one-day workshop delivered by Guglielmo Schinina, Head of Global Mental Health, Psychosocial Response and Intercultural Communication (MHPSS) section at IOM. He has been travelling throughout the region in countries including Korea, Nepal, Cambodia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Viet Nam, Indonesia and Thailand in response to the emphasis now placed by the Organization and partner governments on this key area of work.

IOM created its first Psychosocial program in 1998, followed by the creation of a unit in 2000 and finally by the foundation of a global section at its headquarters in 2009. In just the past two years, IOM has provided MHPSS support to more than 720,000 migrants, displaced persons, and conflict-affected individuals in 32 countries and trained 4,500 professionals worldwide.

Unlike its very beginnings when it was considered exclusively a service to offer to people with mental health problems, MHPSS is now seen as a cross-cutting understanding and set of knowledge to be applied in all aspects of migrant assistance programs, from Camp Management to Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration, from Emergency Support to Reparation and Community Stabilization.

Over time the focus of the intervention has shifted from mental problems and ‘trauma’ to resilience strengthening and social supports: putting people at the centre of the intervention. As Schinina puts it: “The mental well-being of a migrant depends on their capacity for dealing with the stress of migration, but it is also highly dependent on the capacity of the community to create space for the migrants’ contribution. Our task is to support and empower individuals but also prepare communities and foster integration.”

No two experiences of emotional distress are the same and, therefore, training humanitarian actors and health and social service providers is essential for understanding the challenging experiences displaced people go through, and for taking an informed decision when it comes to providing the right type of psychosocial support. “We should be taking into account language and cultural differences when it comes to mental health and psychosocial support of migrants,” Schinina said.

He emphasized that in programmes of assistance to vulnerable migrants, like victims of trafficking, rehabilitation and reintegration do not have to overlap since these experiences are characterized by severe distress, and severe distress impair thinking and the capacity to make decisions about one's future. These decisions can only be taken, in certain situations, only after a period of rehabilitation. In return and reintegration programmes, Schinina added that “The issue of shame should be taken into account. The lack of communication concerning the negative experiences of migration, out of fear of judgement, can lead vulnerable migrants to keeping a double-narrative about their lives, which can result in difficulties and isolation at the moment of their return.”

Alex Cole, Migrant Assistance Associate with IOM, summed up her feelings about the training at the end of the day: “It was very interesting and relevant to my daily work, and I think that I now have more technical expertise on psychosocial support, seeing as it is a cross-cutting issue that relates to my unit.” She added: “Now I’ll be able to integrate the new things I have learned into project development and assistance to missions when dealing with victims of trafficking AVRR.”

For further information, please contact Guglielmo Schinina, Tel: +202 273 65140, Ext: 396, Email: