Refugee Program

PSYCHOLOGICAL PROBLEMS AMONG REFUGEES

The problem of refugees and migration was completely new to the former Soviet Union and the Eastern European countries. As regards it causes, they are a result of military conflicts and severe economical situation. Today in nearly all the CIS counties there are refugees and migrants from other countries (Russia, Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, the countries of Central Asia, Moldova). The first refugees in the Soviet Union had appeared in Armenia after the 1988 massacres of Armenians in Sumgait, Azerbaijan. The Armenian people have experienced a number of severe events during last ten years. The devastating earthquake in 1988, the difficult transition period, massacres of the Armenian population in Azerbayjan and Karabakh, the prolonged war in Nagorno Karabakh, the economic blockade of Armenia organized by Azeribayjan and Turkey, etc. have caused physical and psychological disturbances on a massive scale. The psychological and social state of refugees and war victims is however most prevalent.

More than 300,000 people left their houses and immigrated to Armenia during the period from 1988 to 1992. After refugees reached Armenia they were housed in hotels, hostels, camps, and various districts of Armenia. Those who settled in Northern part of the country experienced the second severe trauma-devastating earthquake, which deepened their distress. But the political regime of the former Soviet Union did not acknowledge the genocide of Armenian population in Azerbayjan, tried to hide the facts of ethnic cleansing and even forced refugees to return to Azerbayjan. The government provided no proper treatment and thousands of people were ignored and forgotten. Hard social conditions and adaptation difficulties caused additional frustration, hopelessness and trauma.
There are refugee locations in various regions of Armenia (earthquake zone, Kotayk, Ararat regions, districts of Yerevan etc.). International and local humanitarian and governmental agencies were trying to facilitate the living conditions by providing food and shelter to the needy. But not much had been done to assist the refugees in the process of integration and adaptation into new society. That caused complete isolation of the refugees in the communities. Isolation caused new psychological, social and even political problems and certain confrontation between refugees and local population. The vast majority of refugees in Armenia are women. The hardships of the transitional period have most severely affected the women refugees: the husbands of some were killed in the conflicts, while those of the others have left to earn money outside the country. Most of the women are bringing up their children in single-parent families, being forced to go through terrible economical and moral hardship. How can they be helped? What measures to take to provide psychological adaptation of refugees? At the end of 1999 Mental Health Foundation initiated screening of psychological problems among refugee. It is important to note that the whole research was made on a voluntary basis.

Our research and experience shows that the priority problems for refugees are related to psychological trauma. The majority of refugee population in Armenia still suffers from chronic post traumatic stress disorder. Displacement is mentioned as a major traumatic event in their life. Also, there are communicational, adaptive problems, sense of being abandoned and other psychological and psychosocial problems.
Multidisciplinary team of Mental Health Foundation, contains from experienced specialists made assessment of needs and psychological screening of refugee population in 3 communities of 2 regions of Armenia. Ranchpar village in Ararat region and Getashen refugee camp and dormitory in city of Abovyan (Kotayk region) were chosen for this survey. 137 refugees living in these communities were interviewed. The total number of refugees who present the socio-demographic characteristics of a mentioned population is approximately 860 persons. Survey shows that overwhelming majority of respondents are suffering from long term posttraumatic reaction, psychological problems are converting into somatic ones. Perception of future is damaged. In addition, same team made an assessment of services provided by Mental Health Foundation in Yerevan. About 10 % of clients were refugees, who need a specific approach in treatment.
Complete results of the screening are in the "Mental Health of Refugees" brochure, which could be obtained from Mental Health Foundation.