The Psychological Survival of a Refugee in South Africa The Impact of War and the ongoing Challenge to Survive as a Refugee in South Africa on Mental Health and Resilience

Author(s): Sumaiya MOHAMED ; Dominique DIX-PEEK ; Ashleigh KATER


The issue of migration of refuges and asylum seekers is one which is an internationally relevant phenomenon. South Africa is home to a large portion of Africa’s refugees, who have been exposed to torture and war trauma. In addition to trauma in their country of origin, refugees face daily contextual stressors which reflect society’s perceptions of refugees as well as the social, economic and political milieu of South Africa. These daily contextual stressors exacerbate the psychological effects of their past trauma. The Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation is a non-governmental organization that provides psychological services to torture survivors, with the aim of promoting psychosocial rehabilitation and mental wellbeing. Using information gathered on the CSVR’s centralised M&E system as well as through clinical reflections on a case study, this paper explores the complexity of providing psychosocial services to survivors of torture in contexts of continuous traumatic stress and daily stressors. The implications for therapy in such situations are explored as well as the necessity for the clinician to possess a role outside of the traditional therapeutic space and the ways in which to build on and promote resilience. Conclusions drawn indicate that an empowerment approach has the best utility in fostering resilience in refugees. In addition to this, clinicians are required to partake in various roles such as therapist, case manager and advocate for their clients. Furthermore, the contextual reality of clients is of utmost importance in conceptualising their mental wellbeing as well as therapeutic goals.


War, refugee, mental health, resilience, South Africa

Tags: South Africa, Refugees, Asylum Seekers, Resilience, War, Torture, Trauma, PTSD, Wellbeing, Stressors, Therapy


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