Research Case Study

Impact: Improving the lives of refugees around the world

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    Human Rights

Renos Papadopoulos

An Essex academic is helping governments and aid organisations across the world improve the plight of refugees by revolutionising the way support services are provided. A crucial part of Professor Renos Papadopoulos’ work is providing training and support to those working on the frontline of disaster areas and war-torn countries.

“It’s important to recognise refugees are entitled to protection. This is their right and their survival should not depend on the benevolence of others. We have to grasp the complexities of the situation. Blaming others, or passively hoping for the best, are no longer an option.” 
Professor Renos Papadopoulos Department  of Psychosocial and Psychoanalytic Studies

 What was the challenge?

No one can have escaped the disturbing images of people risking their lives in a desperate bid to flee persecution and armed conflict. 

In 2015, 24 people a minute were forced to leave their homes, and there are now thought to be over 65 million people across the world who are of concern to the UNHCR – the United Nations Refugee Agency. 

What did we do?

Professor Papadopoulos is the Director of our Centre for Trauma, Asylum and Refugees, which examines the reality of being a refugee. 
 
His team has assessed conditions and suggested improvements at refugee camps across the world. 
 
He believes helping refugees to value their own strengths and avoid seeing themselves as victims, is crucial to their long-term mental health and well-being. 
 
As he explained: “We must not treat refugees and other survivors of political violence, torture and  disasters simply as victims.  
 
“They are often people with incredible resourcefulness. If anything, the mere fact they survive such  hardships in their countries testifies to their resilience and potential. 
 
“Tapping into these strengths is crucial. These are not people who are likely to be a burden on their new country. On the contrary, given the right conditions they can thrive and assist the countries that take them in.” 

His long-standing association with the Babel Day Centre, a mental health unit supporting immigrants and refugees in Athens, has led to the setting up of a specialist multi-disciplinary team working with the survivors of torture. It includes psychologists, medical experts, social workers, and lawyers, all working to the principles he established. 

He has provided training to the mental health team at Medecins Sans Frontier in Greece and to the Greek Asylum Service and has acted as an advisor to the Greek Ministry of Health. 

In Mexico, JUCONI, an organisation working with street children in Central America, has adopted his way of working and he has trained their staff and collaborating organisations, including the UN agencies, UNICEF and UNHCR. 

 

 What have we changed?

His approach to providing support services has been adopted by Governments and NGOs dealing with crises in Columbia, Cyprus, Egypt, Estonia, Greece, India, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Lebanon, Libya Mexico, the USA, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sudan, Turkey and Yemen.
 
His ‘adversity grid’ provides a way of acknowledging the problems being faced, but at the same time recognising the strengths of individuals – both those that were retained from before the adversity and new strengths gained as a result of dealing with adversity.
 
Angelina Jalonen, from the Refugee Council, said: “His adversity grid provides the best framework for adopting a holistic perspective to working with refugees by focusing not only on the negative and pathological responses to adversity, but also on the strengths of an individual. In short, the way we currently practice is essentially based on his research.”

Research team
Renos Papadopoulos