Refugees believe in America, and most work hard and invest everything they have into their children’s futures.
RECENTLY, there has been increasing and deserved attention on the mental-health impacts of war on our nation’s veterans.
Often forgotten, but no less impacted, are the many civilians caught in the middle of these conflicts. Some have served nobly with U.S. forces or worked for the U.S. government and were thus targeted for death. Others are simply innocent men, women and children who want to work, raise families and go to school, but instead must endure the worst parts of war.
As a mental-health provider working with refugees in King County, I see the toll of this brutality every day. Close to one-quarter of the new-arrival refugees at our clinic have been tortured. Almost all have lost a family member. Every day, I hear stories of houses collapsed by bombs, loved ones kidnapped, persecution and cruelty on an unimaginable scale. Mothers have watched their children blown up by bombs. Fathers are forced to witness the rape of their wives and daughters. Children have watched as people are shot and placed in mass graves. There is no one left untouched by the horror of war.
Fewer than 1 percent of the world’s refugees will ever get the opportunity to resettle to a new country. For those who do make it to the United States, they must quickly become self-sufficient with resettlement assistance often lasting only 90 days. Currently, there are no additional resettlement provisions for refugees traumatized by war. They are afforded no extra time to become self-sufficient, nor do they receive supplementary resources designed to help them heal. Children coming straight from war zones are expected to immediately enter school and be ready to learn. Parents must cope with trauma while trying to find a job, learn English, provide for their family and adjust to a new culture.
America is known as a nation of immigrants, but in truth we are also a nation of refugees. People have come here not only to seek a better life, but also to escape religious persecution, ethnic cleansing and conflict. I am proud that our country joins other nations in receiving some of the world’s most vulnerable people and offers them a chance to rebuild their lives. But we must do better for those individuals struggling from war trauma, especially for those who came from countries in which the U.S. has been involved.
Refugees are survivors — to unlock their full potential, they must have more opportunities to heal from a complicated and traumatic past. As a nation we need to provide robust mental-health services for the refugees we willingly welcome and resettle, and allow adequate time to adjust and resettle for those most traumatized.
Special efforts need to be made in restoring a sense of safety and stability, especially in refugee children and youths. The federal government should invest in mental-health services for refugees at the same rate as physical health services and integrate mental-health efforts into existing resettlement. A small investment of time and money early in a refugee’s life will aid recovery, support healthier children and families, and ease adjustment.
Refugees have often lost everything, and so they hold dear those things they cannot lose, which are their families and their faiths. They believe in the American dream, and most work hard and invest everything they have into their children’s futures. No refugee should have to suffer any more than they already have.
They give us their drive, their resilience and their unwavering faith in the promise of America. In return, we can give them time to reclaim hope and heal. America’s future citizens are worth it.