Trump Administration’s Orders Pose Harm to Refugees, Immigrants, Academic Research and International Exchange, According to Psychologists

Iranian psychologists in American Psychological Association (APA) Convention From left to right: Sheava Rahimi, Dr. Mehrpouyan, Dr. Fakhrabadi, Dr. Modarressi, Dr. Pakdaman, Peyman Raoofi

WASHINGTON – While safeguarding the nation from terrorist entry is of critical national importance, the Trump administration’s proposed restrictions on refugees and other visitors are likely to compound the stress and trauma already experienced by populations at risk for discrimination, limit scientific progress and increase stigma, according to the American Psychological Association (APA).

APA voiced concern regarding the executive order issued Jan. 27 that suspends all refugee admissions for 120 days, more than halves to 50,000 the number of refugees to be admitted in 2017, indefinitely blocks all refugees from Syria, and bars entry for 90 days to individuals from seven Muslim-majority countries.

“Refugees, particularly those displaced from war zones, experience stress, trauma and other serious mental health problems,” said APA President Antonio E. Puente, PhD. “Denying them entry to the United States, particularly those who have already been vetted, is inhumane and likely to worsen their suffering. This conclusion is based on extensive research and clinical experience, as well as my own personal past.”

Such policies can lead to a perception of reduced freedom, safety and social connection for those directly affected, as well as for society at large. APA urged the administration also to consider the importance of allowing international students and psychologists with proper documentation to enter the United States. The restrictions to entry will prevent many international students and scientists from studying, working or attending conferences in the United States, curbing the nation’s ability to benefit from global scientific talent, according to APA. They will also impede the international engagement of scientists living in this country who are not U.S. citizens.

APA also took exception to an executive order issued on Jan. 25 that would make it easier to deport immigrants. Research has documented serious mental health consequences for immigrant children and/or their parents who have been forced to leave the United States, which may magnify earlier trauma experienced in or upon fleeing their country of origin. Sudden and unexpected family separation is associated with negative outcomes on child well-being that can last well into adulthood.

The president’s executive order on immigration could lead to expanding family detention centers, according to APA. Immigration detainees are more vulnerable to psychological stress, compared to those in the community. The longer the detention period, the greater the risk of depression and other mental health symptoms for immigrants who were previously exposed to interpersonal trauma.

“The United States has historically served as a safe haven for the world’s refugees and a destination for those interested in the educational and employment opportunities that our nation offers, as it did for me,” Puente said. “We must strive to develop ways to secure our borders from those very few who wish to harm us while continuing to welcome others who come to our shores in peace.”

The American Psychological Association, in Washington, D.C., is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States. APA’s membership includes nearly 115,700 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 54 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance the creation, communication and application of psychological knowledge to benefit society and improve people’s lives.

World Day of Social Justice: Promoting Environmentally Sustainable Economies and Societies


February 20th marks the World Day of Social Justice established by the United Nations (UN), and this year’s theme recognises environmentally sustainable economies and societies. The World Day of Social Justice brings together the fundamental values that all societies should have: equality, harmony, solidarity and social justice. The United Nations holds social justice at the core of its mission to promote development and human dignity.

Governments have made a commitment to the creation of a framework for action that promotes social justice not only a national level, but internationally. In addition, Governments around the world have also pledged to promote equal distributions of income and resources and have recognised that a society for all needs to be based on respect for all human rights.

The World Day of Social Justice places an emphasis on civic duty, engagement and solidarity which is a new politics that will bring a society defined by utilitarianism. That which is fair, moral and just is that which a civilization must decide in order to assure social justice. A day in which the General Assembly will recognise that social development and social justice are indispensable for the achievement and maintenance of peace and security amongst nations. Social development and social justice cannot be attained in the absence of peace and security, or in the absence of freedom.

Oxfam reported that 80% of the world’s richest people had the same amount of wealth as the poorest 3.6 billion people. The effects of economic inequality can have drastic results, even in the UK there is a growing divide between the life expectancy of the richest and poorest within society.

In 2008, the Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalization was adopted by the International Labour Organization (ILO) in an effort to show its commitment to social justice. The Declaration posits that achieving improved and fair outcomes are necessary for the aspirations of a just society.

“In this crucial year for global development, as Member States work to craft a post-2015 agenda and a new set of sustainable development goals, let us do our utmost to eradicate all forms of human exploitation. Let us strive to build a world of social justice where all people can live and work in freedom, dignity and equality.”  Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

Whilst globalization and interdependence are opening opportunities through trade, investment and capital flows which encourage the improvement of living standards around the world, there are still severe challenges such as insecurity, poverty and inequality amongst societies which places barriers to further integration and participation in the global economy.

In June 2014 the International Labour Conference voted overwhelmingly to adopt a Protocol and a Recommendation that provided specific guidance on effective measures to be taken that would help eliminate forms of forced labour. In 2015, the International Labour Organization held a panel discussion on modern forms of forced labour and human trafficking and the impact this had on national and global social and economic development.

In order to advance social justice, societal barriers must be removed. These include gender, age, race, religion, culture and disability. The 2015 theme for the World Day of Social Justice was ending human trafficking and forced labour. Forced labour takes different forms including trafficking and debt bondage. Victims of this are usually women, migrants or sweatshop workers.

Whilst unemployment has been falling in developed countries, the job crisis is not likely to end in the short term, especially in emerging countries. Unemployment rates are expected to rise by 2.3 million, reaching 199.4 million in 2016 with an additional 1.1 million forecasted to be added to the global tally by 2017.  This means that both males and females are likely to have to accept lower paid jobs, both in emerging and developing economies.

Urgent action should be taken to increase the number of work opportunities in order to alleviate tensions. Policies need to focus more on strengthening employment and tackling the inequalities. Furthermore, vulnerable employment is concerning high in developing economics with peaks in Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

Keep up to date with the World Day of Social Justice on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #WDSJ2016! Additionally, there are many resources online for teachers including lesson plans about social justice too!

Pope Francis Visit to the US Aims to Highlight Poverty and Discrimination


This month, on September 22nd, Pope Francis will arrive in America for his first ever visit which will begin in Washington, DC. Upon being greeted by President Obama, he will conduct a midday prayer with U.S. bishops at Saint Matthew’s Cathedral before attending the Junipero Serra Canonization Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Pope Francis’ final day in Washington on September 24th will involve a speech to the Senate and House of Representatives as well as a visit to St Patrick’s Catholic Church and Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington.

Upon arriving in New York on September 25th, Pope Francis will visit the United Nations General-Assembly followed by a religious service at 9/11 Memorial and Museum. The Pope will also visit Our Lady Queen of Angels School as well as ride in a papal motorcade through Central Park followed by a mass in Madison Square Garden. The final destination of what is sure to be a busy trip is Philadelphia for the World Family Meeting.

He will attend mass at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, visit the Festival of Families at Benjamin Franklin Parkway and Prayer vigil with World Meeting of Families. Earlier in the morning on the last day of Pope Francis’ trip, he will visit Curren-Fromhold Correctional Facility to meet with 100 inmates and their families.

The trip comes at a crucial time for the Catholic Church which has seen decreasing numbers for some time and has been accused of failing to prevent the sexual abuse of children. For every one person entering the Catholic Church, it has been estimated that around six are leaving. The US is home to more Christians than anywhere else in the world. However the number of Americans identifying themselves as Catholic has been decreasing for some time.

It is thought that this is because the values of the Catholic Church are not in line with contemporary society. An example of this has been seen recently as the Supreme Court of the United States made a monumental decision that the constitution should contain a right to same-sex marriage. This comes just a few months after Ireland, where 83.6% of the population is Catholic, had an overwhelming “yes” vote to same-sex marriage showing a huge leap towards equality in an increasingly contemporary society.

Whilst it is amazing that society is changing to become more equal, will religion keep up with this change? Whilst the Catholic Church has previously not supported same-sex marriage, Pope Francis is known for having more forgiving views. His statement towards the LGBT community has been received as being non-judgemental and an equality driven approach.

Additionally, Pope Francis adopts use of social media and is making vital steps towards bridging the growing gap between religion and society. A study showed that people who defined themselves as agnostic or atheist actually viewed Pope Francis in a positive regard showing that his attitudes to discrimination stretch beyond the religion and apply to even those who do not follow it.

Although his visit could be seen as an attempt for Pope Francis to change the dwindling numbers in the Catholic Church, it is thought to be an attempt to encourage people to take a more active approach to minimising poverty and discrimination. Eradicating discrimination could be an appealing message considering the racial and social tensions which are prominent in the US.

As beneficial as it would be for Pope Francis’ visit to increase the numbers joining the Catholic Church, it would be as beneficial if he
encouraged more people to become involved in Catholic charities and advocating for the poor. This comes at a time when the globe is witnessing the biggest refugee crisis since World War II, which stresses an importance on eradicating discrimination and helping those in poverty.

Pope Francis announced that he will open the Vatican to refugee families and the Roman Catholic Church has expressed hope that others will do the same showing his commitment to helping the poor and encouraging universal solidarity.

Many believe the US visit will help to engage and promote society in coming together to change the systems that create poverty. This message will help provide hope to those in poverty and those living in slums, in which Pope Francis has visited in Paraguay. Hopefully, his message will pave the way for the Catholic Church to follow. Pope Francis’ focus on poverty is necessary as more than 3 billion people live on less than $1.25 a day, which prevent people from living a healthy lifestyle that we all have the right to.

Furthermore, approximately 750 million people worldwide do not have access to clean drinking water, a necessity we frequently take for granted. This visit presents an exciting event for the US, but it is also a reminder to help those who are marginalized and oppressed within society.

Whereas this message will hopefully help encourage people to join the Catholic Church, it will also promote a sense of commitment to eradicating discrimination and poverty. His approach to equality and discrimination has changed the way people not only view the Catholic Church and the Pope, but how they respond to social issues.

Europe Can Do More to Protect Refugees


For many years European countries have been warned about the inadequacy of their immigration and asylum systems. Now, with increased refugee arrivals and more frequent tragedies, this system is showing all its weaknesses. But refugee arrivals are not the real cause of this collapse. The real reason is political.

According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, a little more than 430,000 asylum applications have been lodged in the European Union member states since January. 40% of them have been received by Germany alone, while Hungary has taken 1 out of 4 of the remaining ones. This means that 26 EU countries are dealing with just over 180,000 asylum applications, an effort which is all but epic.

Even including the almost 300,000 people who arrived in Italy and Greece since January – mostly Syrians who will be granted asylum – we are still far from experiencing the real refugee arrival pressure faced by much less rich and stable countries like Pakistan, Lebanon and Ethiopia, or, without looking too far, Turkey, home to some 2 million Syrian refugees.

Regrettably, more often than not, politicians ignore facts. With the outstanding exception of Germany, in the majority of the EU countries politicians are competing with each other in sending bad signals to the public. France and the United Kingdom – the latter being a country where asylum applications have remained stable over the last few years – could not find a better answer to the needs of some 3,000 migrants in Calais than to send the police and allocate money to reinforce surveillance.

In Denmark – where asylum applications have not increased significantly compared to 2014 – the parliament approved last Wednesday a cut in refugee benefits, with the declared intent to make the country less attractive to refugees. In Poland – where asylum applications in 2014 dropped by 50% compared to 2013 – the country’s president spoke against the possibility of taking more asylum seekers, although the number of asylum applications remained low in the first half of 2015 too.

With a steep increase in asylum applications and little if any help from fellow EU countries, Bulgaria and Hungary have made the bad choice of sealing off their borders. This is certainly not the right answer to those who seek international protection. But the inconvenient political truth is that this comes also as the result of an EU asylum system which penalises countries placed at the border of Europe.

The real problem is not the arrival of refugees, but this desultory, almost hysterical response to it. More than a refugee crisis, this is a political one, where States demand less Europe, when in reality we need more. To save a Europe of solidarity and human rights, we must rethink its approach to migration.

The first thing to do is to fundamentally review the Dublin Regulation, an unfair mechanism which allows the majority of EU member states to allocate responsibility for dealing with asylum-seekers to a few frontline countries like Bulgaria, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Malta and Spain. The latest blow to this system comes from Germany which suspended a few days ago its application as regards Syrian refugees. This decision should be extended to all categories of asylum seekers and applied by all EU member states.

EU countries and the European Commission should build a system where countries fairly share asylum-seekers based on the principles of solidarity and human rights protection. This would help improve the protection Europe affords to refugees and, at the same time, relieve the pressure on some EU countries.

Such developments should go hand-in-hand with improved co-operation with states in the Western Balkans. So far, the EU has pressured them in various ways to hold off asylum-seekers, a choice that has led some of these countries to adopt a series of unlawful measures like ethnic profiling at border crossings and the confiscation of travel documents. Now, the EU has to help these states develop their asylum systems and their capacities to host refugees in accordance with European standards. This will not only help save lives, but also give effect to the promise to “achieve a greater unity” that all EU and Western Balkans states agreed to when they joined the Council of Europe.

In addition, European states have to provide more legal avenues for refugees to reach the continent, for example by easing humanitarian visas and family reunification rules. This would not only help refugees avoid perilous sea and land routes, but would also weaken the grip of smugglers, who thrive when migration restrictions are harsh.

Protecting refugees is both a moral and a legal obligation. It is not an easy task, but neither is it impossible. We must do more to protect those who flee wars and persecution. With political will, Europe can hold true to its values.

Seeing Beyond the Negative: How Understanding Culture Adds Perspective


Whilst working in local authority (Child Welfare Agency) as an auditor and conference chair, I have been involved in several child protection cases involving North Korean families. Child abuse is a complicated issue and there is much research on families in the UK from different cultural backgrounds and a lot of information can be found by looking at the Serious Case Review Biannual Analysis which is what I often do when researching issues to do with child abuse. As social workers we are often focused on some of the most difficult aspects of humanity, and our need to find out what the negatives are almost prevents us to see what the positive aspects of people’s worlds and cultures are.

Serious case reviews are a well researched government sponsored data gathering which is put into information which is easy to assimilate and not full of academic jargon based on class room discussions. The Biannual Analysis deals with real families that we as practitioners work with every day, unfortunately these reviews consist of children and families struck by tragedy. What did the Biannual Analysis tell me about North Korean families? Much in social work is based on hunches and anecdotes, my current inquiry was why are so many North Korean families being referred to children’s services and why was the nature of the child abuse so similar? I have not been able to find any information that can help me which might be a good thing bearing in mind the criteria that cases are submitted for SCR’s.

I have been involved with cases which have similar factors, they show the impact of parents who as children were abused or had harsh treatment in their past, and who may also have had recent post traumatic stress from possible torture or fear and anxiety of retribution or separation from family who may be at risk back home.

Also, I made an information request to the ICS department, ( ICS is our data capture system)which did not show huge numbers subject to child protection plans, but certainly showed significant numbers of children who are subject to child welfare services. This particular local authority has a high number of North Korean families. Other facts about their circumstances and child in need support may provide us with some interesting insights into these families who have sought refuge in a far away country.

As a social worker I am challenged to look after my wellbeing by eating healthy food, however local to where I work, there is a great Japanese street food restaurant that does fast take away orders. This is where I normally grab something to eat, served by the same familiar woman who takes my order and shouted it out in what I thought was Japanese to chefs busy cooking on open fires in a row of street kitchens.

Almost suddenly in these times of austerity in London, a new Japanese restaurant opened around the corner to my office and as I have no commitment to anyone place I tried it out and began ordering my take away from the new place. A few months later a familiar face greeted me in the new restaurant, the smiling friendly face of the lady who formally shouted out my order with limited softness of face, in the bustling open street kitchen.

She greeted me like a long lost friend and was pleased to see me in the shop that she was now working in. She seemed very much more relaxed, possibly because the restaurant was fairly new and did not have as many customers as the street stall and she could actually have a conversation with me instead of the conveyor belt like system which kept the street kitchen lively and cheap.

Mi Yung and I started talking about her journey to Britain, and I was overwhelmed by her declaration about how she did not care if she woke up and it was raining (in Britain we moan about the weather) she was happy when it rained because she had the freedom to work where she wanted and to stand up to her bosses if she felt that her rights were being impinged. She had loved working in the street kitchen but the quickness of the serving had not allowed her to talk with people and this was what she wanted to do more than ever.

Her journey to freedom was based on the need to interact with people when she wanted and to be truly happy, working in this new restaurant meant that she could grow in a way that most people who are born into less restricted societies take for granted. And although she needed a job she expressed to me the need to work somewhere that she could be free and meet and greet the world.

Now, my inquiry is much more based on the positive aspects of the North Korean society in the area; how to mobilise the positive aspects of people like Mi Yung who see the world with eyes based on growth not just on past abuse or being stuck in trauma. Understanding culture is important for social workers, but we do not always need to learn from negative occurrences of adult violence or child abuse.

We can learn by understanding and interacting more with people who have come through adversity attempting to catch glimpses of how they remain resilient and what aspects of their positive worlds can aid those who are not so able to let go of their past. In terms of child protection the local authority should talk to people like Mi Yung to gain an understanding or what support can be put in place to aid and support North Korean families. With regard to social workers intervening with families of similar backgrounds, this lively discussion seems to have been missing in the past decade of social work transformation.

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