A life in waiting: Refugees' mental health and narratives of social suffering after European Union border closures in March 2016.
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JournalSocial Science and Medicine
AbstractIn 2015, an estimated 856,723 refugees, predominantly from Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq arrived in Greece as an entry point into the European Union. The border of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia closed in March 2016, blocking a popular route for refugees through Europe, and left around 60,000 people stranded in Greece. OBJECTIVE: A mixed-method study was conducted among refugees in the regions of Attica, Epirus, and Samos between November 2016 and February 2017. The epidemiological survey showed that depending on study sites between 73% and 100% of the refugees suffered from anxiety disorder. The explanatory qualitative study aimed to understand refugees' mental health and narratives of social suffering in regards to experienced violence, the effect of current border closures, and the lack of an onward journey. METHOD: The explanatory qualitative study included 47 in-depth interviews and five focus group discussions with refugees purposely recruited through the concomitant epidemiological survey, representing both genders and a range of nationalities and ages. Data were thematically analysed to identify emergent patterns and categories using NVivo 11. RESULTS: The refugees overwhelmingly reported experiencing uncertainty and lack of control over their current life and future, which caused psychosocial distress and suffering. The passivity of life in refugee camps aggravated feelings of meaninglessness and powerlessness. The disruption of key social networks and absence of interactions with the surrounding Greek society led to feelings of isolation and being unwelcome. CONCLUSIONS: Refugees in Greece experience psychosocial distress and social suffering as a consequence of their uncertain and disrupted lives and the loss of social networks. Faster and transparent asylum procedures, the development of meaningful and empowering activities, and fostered social interactions with the surrounding society would contribute to alleviating their psychosocial suffering.