Well-being of highly skilled refugees: a value-laden phenomenon

Psoinos, Maria (2013) Well-being of highly skilled refugees: a value-laden phenomenon. In: Migration and Well-Being: Research Frontiers; 08-10 Jan 2013, Tel Aviv, Israel. (Unpublished)


The concept of well-being in migrant and refugee populations has attracted for several decades social scientists' and clinicians' interest. It started off as a primarily psychological construct which focused largely on the coping resources individuals activate when faced with various migration-related stressors, and then gradually developed to a more psychosocial phenomenon which is shaped both by people's agency and contextual factors. Nowadays the initial 'individualistic' focus has given way to a more balanced approach and there is broad consensus on migrant well-being being conceptualized and understood as a multilevel and dynamic phenomenon, conditioned by norms of justice prevalent in the host society (Prilleltensky, 2008). However the well-being of refugees is still often approached through an individualistic and pathology-prone lens, despite noteworthy calls for shifting attention to its contextual and proactive aspects (Bala, 2005; Eastmond, 2000; Papadopoulos, 2007; Powles, 2004). This approach still holds strong due to a range of psychological and psychiatric theories one-sidedly linking migration with stress; along with a preoccupation with illness which has pervaded refugee-related policies, program development and research; and finally due to the media portrayal of refugees as prone to mental illness. All the above factors have led to a focus on refugees' pathology, which still haunts their health picture today (Watters, 2001). This paper strongly endorses the clear connection of migrant well-being to social justice, yet it argues that in the case of certain groups such as highly skilled refugees who reside in western countries, this connection between social justice and well-being should be both empirically founded and more pronounced if social scientists and clinicians are to help develop and sustain this population’s well-being. By focusing on a small sample of highly skilled refugees who reside in the UK and who have not attained a positive state of well-being this paper explores the connection between refugee well-being and social justice norms. Social justice here is defined as the fair allocation of responsibilities, resources and power in society. By drawing on the autobiographical narratives of highly skilled refugees who had serious difficulties in the host country in terms of securing full refugee status, having their educational credentials and professional qualifications acknowledged and entering the labour market, thus had their duties, resources and power-opportunities thwarted, this paper highlights the value-ladenness of well-being for this population. It concludes by prompting social researchers and practitioners in this field to consider issues of justice when designing and implementing psychosocial interventions for this group's well-being.

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