In the Shoes of Refugees: Forced Displacement and Mental Health


Istanbul Bilgi University, Istanbul, Turkey


“Warfare in different parts of the world has led to a humanitarian emergency: forced displacement of millions of people. In 2015 UNHCR estimated that over 60 million persons were forcibly displaced, the highest number since World War 2 (UNHCR 2015). This means that there has been an increase by about 1/3 over the last 10 years and an increasing number among them are unaccompanied minors. By the end of 2015, 1 in every 122 humans was someone who had been forced to flee his home. Furthermore, in 2016, this number rose to 65.3 million. Among them were nearly 21.3 million refugees, over half of whom were under the age of 18. If this were the population of a country, it would be the 23rd most populated country in the world and 3rd such in Europe (UN, 2016). Today, nearly 34,000 people are forcibly displaced every day (UNHCR, 2016).

Forced displacement of people due to warfare may be considered as a psycho-social earthquake. Especially after the deaths of thousands of people in the Mediterranean in the last couple years has brought this issue sharply into the focus of the whole world. While the deaths of the forced displaced people on across the borders of the whole world in the first nine months of 2014 was slightly over 4 000; it reached the same number of human loss only in the Mediterranean region in 2015.

Refugees fleeing with few possessions leading to neighboring or more developed countries face many life threatening risks on the way, as they have nowhere to turn. A refugee is a person who has lost the past for an unknown future. Experiences of loss and danger are imprinted in their selves. It is shown that, in the short/medium term, 60 % suffer from mental disorders, e.g., posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depressive disorders, anxiety disorders, psychosis, and dissociative disorders. In the long term, existing evidence suggests that mental disorders tend to be highly prevalent in war refugees even many years after resettlement. This increased risk may not only be a consequence of exposure to wartime trauma but may also be influenced by post-migration socio-economic factors.

In fact, “we are seeing here the immense costs of not ending wars, of failing to resolve or prevent conflicts.” Once more, psychiatry and mental health workers are facing the mental health consequences of persecution, general violence, wars, and human rights violations caused by the current prevailing economy-politics and socio-politics. So, a serious challenge here is both consolidating the psychiatric/medical help, and avoiding the medicalization of social phenomena at the same time. This presentation will discuss the issue of forced displaced people considering it as a humanitarian tragedy with some examples of its mental health consequences.


1. UNHCR 2015. Mid-Tear Trends report 2015, Geneva, 2015. Retrieved on September 27, 2016.

2. United Nations (2016) Population by countries. Retrieved on September 29, 2016

3. UNHCR 2016. Retrieved on September 28, 2016.