What does the literature say about resilience in refugee people? Implications for practice

Mary Hutchinson, Pat Dorsett


Refugee people experience many trials prior to arriving in Australia and face ongoing challenges associated with re-settlement. Despite facing such difficulties many refugee people demonstrate enormous strength and resilience that facilitates their re-settlement process. The authors’ experience however suggests that professionals working with refugee people tend to focus on the trauma story to the neglect of their strengths. At times this means resilience is overshadowed by a dominant Western deficits model that defines refugee people as traumatised victims. Pathologising the trauma story of refugee people may further alienate refugee people from full inclusion into Australian life by denying their inherent resilience in the face of extraordinary life experiences. This article reviews Australian and International literature to explore factors that contribute to refugee resilience such as personal qualities, support and religion. The review also identifies elements that may impede resilience including; language barriers, racism, discrimination, and labelling the trauma story. The literature suggests refugee resilience moves beyond the Western individualised notion of resilience to a more communal construction of resilience that includes refugee people’s broader social context. The literature highlights important practice implications and the authors respond to the findings by reflecting on their own practice experience and considering implications for a more inclusive anti-oppressive strengths-based approach to work with refugee people.

Keywords: refugee, resilience, strengths, trauma

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