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Theme 2 Forcibly displaced persons > project 1 & 2

Forcibly displaced persons

Post-Displacement Stressors and mental health of refugees and asylum-seekers



Project group

PI: Angela Nickerson, PhD, School of Psychology, UNSW Sydney, Australia, e-mail:

Elizabeth Newnham, School of Psychology, Curtin University, Australia; Frank Neuner, Department of Psychology, University of Bielefeld, Germany; Andrew Rasmussen, Psychology Department, Fordham University, United States; Belinda Liddell, School of Psychology, UNSW Sydney, Australia


There are currently over 70 million forcibly displaced persons worldwide, with more than 29 million of these being refugees and asylum-seekers (UNHCR, 2019). Rates of psychological disorders are elevated amongst individuals from a refugee background. It is critical that rigorous research be conducted to understand the factors that influence mental health in refugees and asylum-seekers. The development of an evidence base relating these factors will directly inform policies and practices to support individuals who have been exposed to persecution and displacement.

There is a large body of research attesting to the dose-response relationship between exposure to potentially traumatic events and mental health difficulties. There is growing evidence that exposure to ongoing stressors following displacement has a strong impact on mental health over and above the impact of trauma exposure, with some studies suggesting that the effect of trauma on mental health is mediated or moderated by these stressors. Despite this, a number of limitations associated with the current measurement of these stressors preclude the clear delineation of this relationship. Establishing a rigorous evidence base that addresses the impacts of ongoing stressors on mental health, education, employment, and community engagement is critical to informing best practice and policy for refugee resettlement.


This project proposes to advance knowledge regarding the conceptualization, measurement and impact of ongoing stressors experienced by individuals from a refugee background. Aims of the project include:

  1. Considering the impact of stressors in the post-displacement environment on mental health and other settlement outcomes

  2. The identification of limitations in the current measurement of ongoing stressors in the post-displacement environment

  3. Investigation of the association between the objective and subjective experience of ongoing stressors, and how this relates to mental health in refugees and asylum-seekers

  4. Examination of the role ongoing stressors play in influencing the relationship between exposure to potentially traumatic events and mental health in refugees and asylum-seekers

  5. Refining current instruments used to index ongoing stressors in refugees and asylum-seekers.

  6. Providing an evidence base to inform the development of policy and service provision for refugees and asylum-seekers

Sunset Soccer
A global network of reFUgees TraUmatic stress REsearch

Project group 

PI: Marit Sijbrandij, PhD 1., email:

Anke Witteveen, PhD 1, Anne de Graaff, MSc 1, Alessandro Massazza 2

1) VU University Department of Clinical, Neuro- and Developmental Psychology, and WHO Collaborating Center for Research and Dissemination of Psychological Interventions, Amsterdam, the Netherlands

2) London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, United Kingdom


Due to recent and ongoing crises, including war and climate change, the number of refugees and displaced populations has seen an unprecedented increase, with almost 80 million people internally or externally displaced by the end of 2019, which is approximately 1% of the world’s population (UNHCR, 2020). Most refugees are hosted by countries in the area close to the countries people originally fled from, such as Turkey, Uganda, Colombia and Pakistan. The past two decades have witnessed a huge growth of research interest in mental health problems including posttraumatic stress disorder across refugee populations. Studies have been conducted in high income settings, as well as in low- and middle-income settings or humanitarian settings, although the number of studies carried out by researchers from high income settings is still much higher than studies that have been carried out by local research teams.


It is imperative that strong collaborations between researchers in the area of refugee mental health and traumatic stress worldwide are formed. This may facilitate sustainable exchange between research groups and settings. Practices for the prevention and treatment of mental disorders that may have proven effective in a specific setting, may be transferred to other settings. In addition, it is important that culturally adapted innovative prevention and treatment strategies are evaluated in other settings where the need for these interventions is highest.

Currently, there are established networks for mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS), and global collaborations for global mental health, but there is no global network for researchers on refugee mental health or traumatic stress. The Global Collaboration of Traumatic Stress is establishing a worldwide network of researchers in the field of traumatic stress in refugees, migrants, and displaced populations.



The aim of establishing the FUTURE (ReFUgees TraUmatic stress REsearch) network is to facilitate collaboration and exchange between researchers worldwide who are conducting studies in refugee and displaced populations. The aim is to connect research teams working in humanitarian settings, low-resource settings, and high income settings. We encourage to share data, knowledge, expertise, instruments and tools.


Within the next two months, the project group will approach researchers in the area of refugee mental health for participation in the network.



Would you like to become part of the FUTURE network?

If you are a refugee mental health researcher or practitioner interested in research, you can also sign up for this network. Please contact Anke Witteveen (


United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). (2019). 2018 Global Report. Geneva, Switzerland: UNHCR

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). (2020). Global trends. Forced displacement in 2019. UNHCR.

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