Research Case Study

Impact: Improving the lives of refugees around the world

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    Economy, business, politics and society
    Global perspectives and challenges
    Health and wellbeing
    Human Rights

  • Lead Academic

    Professor Renos Papadopoulos

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.

Renos Papadopoulos
“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 abandoning their homes and risking their lives in a desperate bid to flee persecution and armed conflict. 

According to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) we are currently witnessing the highest levels of displacement on record, with one person being forcibly displaced every two seconds globally.

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, assessing conditions and suggesting improvements at refugee camps across the world. 
 
Over the course of several years, he has developed a unique approach to working with refugees and migrants, called Synergic Therapeutic Complexity (STC). This approach works as a collaboration between caregivers (e.g. aid organisations) and beneficiaries (the refugees or migrants). 

The approach provides a framework that Professor Papadopoulos has called the Adversity Grid. This provides a way for both parties to acknowledging the problems being faced, whilst at the same time recognising the strengths of the individual refugee – both those that were retained from before the adversity and new strengths gained as a result of dealing with adversity.

Professor Papadopoulos, who is based in our Department for Psychosocial and Psychoanalytic Studies, 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.” 

What have we changed?

Professor Papadopoulos’ common-sense approach to providing support services has been adopted by a number of organisations, governments and NGOs across the world, including Greece, Haiti, Mexico, Italy, Cyprus, Costa Rica, the UK and the countries of the Pacific Rim. 

Professor Papadopoulos’ 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. 

Professor Papadopoulos has produced a training manual on the principles of STC. He has also been invited to join the Working Parties of the British Psychological Society and of the UN International Organisation for Migration to produce guidelines for practitioners working with migrants and refugees.