The Importance of Mental Health Services for Asylum Seekers and Refugees
~ by Professor Suresh Sundram, Director of Research, Cabrini Asylum Seeker and Refugee Health Program
Why we exist
The Cabrini Asylum Seeker and Refugee Health Hub in Melbourne, Australia was established in 2016 to serve asylum seekers and new refugees in Melbourne and regional Victoria.
Although there are important paid roles within the Hub, it is reliant on the pro bono contributions of numerous health workers. The Hub is essential because the people that it serves are primarily people who are not provided access to the Federally funded healthcare system. Many of these asylum seekers are also not permitted to work and are therefore reliant on charity. It then becomes a forced financial choice for what is prioritised where food and shelter often override health needs. Moreover, the lack of work – intensified by the Covid 19 economic slowdown – exacerbates housing insecurity leaving many asylum seekers in transient accommodation complicating the provision of longitudinal care.
The Essentiality of Mental Health Services Especially During This Time of a Pandemic
The public health measures imposed because of the pandemic have caused many of us much strain and difficulty. The marginalisation of asylum seekers within the community through their enforced disconnection from mainstream modes such as employment, housing and welfare support has caused even greater hardship for this group. The isolation and loneliness from their alienation compounded by enforced lockdowns has further corroded their resilience exacerbating distress and mental illness.
The Hub has worked tirelessly to provide treatment, care and support for the physical and mental health care needs of those most adversely affected. In parallel we have been trying to understand how these new social factors interact with the lived experience of trauma that most asylum seekers and refugees bring with them from their home countries and migration journeys. Many fail to recognise or try to ignore the impacts of these stressors on their health and functioning and it is all too easy for workers to miss subtle signs of distress or mental illness.
The Future of Our Work
We developed a simple tool, the STAR-MH, for all workers regardless of training to complete with their adult asylum seeker or refugee client that will indicate the likelihood of a serious mental health issue that requires further clinical evaluation. It has been very positively received globally and we are now trying to secure funding to complete adolescent and child versions of the tool.
In understanding the complexity and nuance of how past and current experiences weave to create resilience and vulnerability to mental health and illness we hope to be able to characterise specific windows where targeting interventions will be most effective. By moving beyond generic and unsophisticated conceptions of how trauma and social factors impact on mental health to more nuanced and subtle understandings, we can develop and customise treatments for asylum seekers and refugees to improve mental health. Most importantly it will allow us to identify at-risk children and adolescents before they become unwell and ultimately prevent illness.
Called to be Human and Humanising, Bearing Witness Brings Healing
In treating and trying to understand asylum seekers and refugees, one of our most critical roles is to bear witness to their experiences, past and current. This validation, at the core of all healing, is maybe most apposite in the context of what many asylum seekers and refugees are experiencing in host societies where they are ostracised, excluded and rejected. We hope to provide an alternate experience through our work. A contemporary expression of our Cabrinian heritage.
Discover more on: https://www.cabrini.com.au/patients-and-families/facilities-and-directions/cabrini-asylum-seeker-and-refugee-health-hub/
Advancing the Human Rights and Dignity of People in Migration, Center on Immigration at Cabrini University
~ by Abel Rodríguez Inaugural Director, Center on Immigration and Assistant Professor of Religion, Law, and Social Justice Cabrini University
At the Heart of Our Work
The Center on Immigration at Cabrini University seeks to honor the legacy of Saint Francesca Cabrini by advancing the human rights and human dignity of people in migration. We do this work through initiatives that focus on education, advocacy, and research. Specifically, for example, we host experts to discuss pressing issues of interest to the campus community and beyond, and our staff provides education to the community about legal and financial rights. The Center’s advocacy efforts include organizing students to call for more just immigration policies at our state and national capitals, and we provide free legal advice and representation to noncitizens. Our publications aim to influence law and policy, and we bring together prominent researchers biannually to discuss their work. By building community among students, advocates, and scholars, we educate others and build power to persuade lawmakers, calling for more just policies for immigrant communities.
Our Proudest Achievement and Our Greatest Challenge
Undoubtedly, our greatest joy has been cultivating a passion for advocacy and immigrant justice among the next generation. Each semester, we organize, train, and transport students from various universities to meet with the staff of elected officials, or sometimes the elected officials themselves. We are incredibly proud of the students, who have educated politicians of the realities immigrants face and speak truth to power. They remain professional, representing their universities with pride, while unafraid to challenge representatives who are dismissive or misinformed. Their advocacy is grounded in authoritative research and, most importantly, in the experiences of those directly impacted by harmful policies. This advocacy is growing. In spring 2020, before the pandemic caused us to cancel the trip, we anticipated taking more than 100 students to speak with at least 20 members of U.S. Congress.
Perhaps our greatest challenge is the current political climate in the U.S. and globally. Attacking immigrant communities, blaming them for society’s ills, is not new, but it has intensified. The law is increasingly used to punish those who migrate, placing them in detention centers or denying them asylum despite genuine fear of harm or death. Lawmakers are more resistant to enacting beneficial reforms. Representing noncitizens in legal matters has become a more hostile process. Immigrant communities are denigrated simply for fleeing danger or seeking abundant lives. It is becoming increasingly difficult to effect positive change for people in migration, both in the courts and in the halls of Congress. We are rising to this challenge by working closely with grassroots organizations to strengthen our numbers and educating the public of the realities faced by people on the move.
A Call for All of Us to Take Action
We believe that justice for immigrant communities is critical because people on the move are often particularly vulnerable. Unprecedented numbers of people are fleeing unyielding persecution, crushing poverty, unmitigated violence, and irreparable climate change. We fight with and for immigrant communities as they face considerable legal obstacles from the very governments that, for their own benefit, perpetuate global inequality, produce political instability, and disproportionately pollute the planet. As people of conscience, we must fight for policies that prohibit governments from imprisoning children in punitive detention systems, sending people to their deaths as a result of unjust asylum laws, and dividing the love of families through mass deportations. To support this work, we encourage you to connect with us to join our advocacy efforts and attend our educational events.
Abel Rodríguez (’01) is Director of the Center on Immigration and Assistant Professor of Religion, Law, and Social Justice at Cabrini University. His scholarship, teaching, and advocacy focus on migrant justice. He is an expert and frequent speaker on immigration policy and the intersection of criminal and immigration law.
Prior to Cabrini, Rodríguez held a split position as the immigration specialist at the Defender Association of Philadelphia and staff attorney at Nationalities Service Center, where he advised and represented noncitizen clients facing deportation. He also worked as the Langer, Grogan, and Diver Social Justice Fellow at Esperanza Immigration Legal Services, where he represented individuals with disabilities and older adults in their immigration matters. He has taught the immigration clinic at Temple University Law School, political science at La Salle University, and Spanish language at the University of Pennsylvania.
Rodríguez earned a Juris Doctor at the University of Pennsylvania, a Master of Theological Studies at Harvard University, a Master of Arts in Latin American Studies at Stanford University, and a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish at Cabrini College.
As the son of immigrants and a first-generation college graduate, raised in a working-class community near Cabrini, he is delighted to be on the faculty of his alma mater, an institution dedicated to social justice and named for the patroness of immigrants.
PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE: THE CABRINIAN VISION THAT ACCOMPANIES OUR LIVES
A Reflection from Educators of the Heart at Istituto Cabrini in Rome
~ by Deborah Pucci and Stefania Caragnano
In God’s Love School
~ by MERCEDES FERNÁNDEZ
More coming soon!
More coming soon!
More coming soon!
More coming soon!