The Health and Well-Being of Refugees
Refugees are individuals who are outside of their country of origin, unable or unwilling to return there due to persecution, or a well-founded fear of persecution, because of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion (UNHCR, 1951).
The U.S. Refugee Population: Statistics and Trends
The U.S. is currently the world’s largest refugee resettlement country.
In 2006, over 41,000 individuals were admitted as refugees in the U.S.
Currently, the largest numbers of refugees per country originate from Somalia, Russia, and Cuba.
The majority of the refugee population is young; 57% of all refugees are under 25 years of age, and 38% are under 18 years of age.
Changes in security and admission procedures in the aftermath of 9/11 are associated with a steady decline in refugee admission rates, which have decreased from approximately 100,000 per year in the 1990s.
Refugee Health and Well-Being
Refugees often face significant physical and mental health challenges before, during, and after displacement and migration.
Refugees are often at increased risk of physical health problems such as malnourishment, starvation, infection and disease (including sexually transmitted infections), musculoskeletal injuries, and pregnancy complications.
For some refugees, emotional distress may manifest in physical symptoms, such as headaches, sleep difficulties, gastrointestinal pain and disordered eating.
Refugees may be victims of significant traumatic experiences including loss of assets and possessions, persecution, threats to safety, physical and sexual violence, torture, chronic terror, and loss of loved ones.
The prevalence of highly stressful traumatic histories can put many refugees at particular risk for mental and behavioral health problems, including posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, irritability/aggressiveness, self-isolation/social withdrawal, and memory and concentration problems.
Refugees with trauma histories are up to 10 times more likely to experience mental health problems than those without a history of trauma.
Resettlement to a new country can also be associated with a variety of social stressors, including changes in family roles, acculturative stress, and adjustment to the stigma associated with refugee status.
Refugees often experience economic and social challenges due to cultural and linguistic barriers and limitations in access to and eligibility for economic and social resources.
Sources: Jeon, Yoshioka, & Mollica, 2001; National Child Traumatic Stress Network, 2003; UNHCR, 2003; USDHS, 2007.