It was both refreshing and disquieting to read Susan Munroe's article on Syrian refugees and trauma, particularly her call for greater cooperation between government and specialist voluntary sector organisations like Freedom from Torture.
Whilst the refugee crisis has undoubtedly caught the public imagination and moved the government to pledge support, we don't like to think too hard about what happened to people before they arrived here. It's easier, safer and more satisfying work to focus on what we can give now, perhaps even to idealise our role in granting sanctuary.
The problem with this in my experience, is that by ignoring or minimising trauma, we miss out on a key opportunity to build resilience. This might sound contradictory, but my experience of supporting refugees is that by listening to, respecting and fully acknowledging what has happened, we to some small extent allow and acknowledge something terrible but real about human experience. In a sense, we're saying 'I see you, I respect you, I can learn from you'. And, simply put, this can make all the difference to whether someone barely survives, or thrives in the UK.
As Munroe implies, it's all in the timing; if the government sees the benefits of an early intervention approach, can fund mental health support and link together organisations as part of a resettlement package, it will be good for Syrian refugees, good for integration, and good for the mental wellbeing of UK society as a whole.
The government needs to immediately improve its coordination with specialist voluntary sector providers. The amount of funding given to local authorities to support each refugee will be reviewed after the programme has been in operation for a year. We strongly recommend that mental health services are included in the programme without delay so that torture survivors coming in the next wave of the refugee resettlement scheme get the vital support and services they need and deserve.