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New book highlights migrants’ mental health challenges

Horrific scenes of migrants who have perished on the high seas while in search of a better life is a too-familiar sight on television screens, online and in newspaper pages. Extreme hunger, repressive governments and ethnic and religious conflicts are cited as among the contributory factors for the crises.

A North-West University (NWU) academic with research interests in the fields of migration and clinical psychology, Prof Erhabor Idemudia, has traversed six European countries to highlight the plight of this vulnerable group and to seek solutions.

Countries in the study are France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Spain, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.

Prof Idemudia, being the first author, has co-written a book about the study’s findings, titled: "Psychological Experiences of African Migrants in Six European Countries", published by Springer Nature. The book had its genesis in 2003 when he was a Humboldtian at a German university.

In it, he and German academic colleague, Prof Klaus Boehnke, paint a realistic picture and state that “it is noteworthy that there is a scarcity of empirical studies examining the impact of migration stressors on mental health and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) of African migrants who have successfully arrived in Europe”.

The heart of the problem

The authors highlight the importance of cordial relations between African migrants and their host countries in the interest of what they term "social peace in Europe”.

“What our study has clearly shown is that African migrants do not come ‘sick’, but are often made sick in Europe. There are migrants suffering from PTSD, but this disorder is not at the centre of problems African migrants face in Europe.”

Instead, the findings of the six-country study put racism and the affected countries’ “welcoming strategies” at the centre of the mental health crisis.

“In 2010, we published an earlier book ('I’m an Alien in Deutschland') and after that we decided to expand on these problems we are seeing among Africans. We collected 3 500 questionnaires and did 22 focus group discussions and 22 in-depth interviews, which is what you see in this (latest) book,” explains Prof Idemudia.

Focus of the book

“The psychology of an African migrant in Europe” is how the authors describe the central question of the book. They say it sheds light on how migrants are faring, what motivates them, what conditions they experience in these European countries and how they cope in general.

Findings and recommendations

“We found that people who are ’undocumented migrants’ have a lot of mental health issues, which culminate in PTSD in their daily lives. Somehow it varies from country to country depending on the policy that prevails and the linkage of that country to colonial ties in Africa,” explains Prof Idemudia.

He provides the example of Britain where a huge Nigerian population lives, making integration of newly arrived migrants more bearable due to factors such as a support system and widespread usage of the English language. However, the same cannot be said of a country such as Germany, or the Netherlands.

“Germany has a good immigration policy, but the language becomes a problem. Many migrants are unable to integrate, which then begins to affect their mental health,” says Prof Idemudia.

Looking into the future of migrants

A vital aspect of the book was to debunk Eurocentric theories which hold that Africans are invading Europe, with calamitous results for the host countries.

“We want to address these findings with the African countries concerned; to advise them on things to do internally and things they must do diplomatically. We want to also co-ordinate this through non-governmental organisations.”

The hope is that the findings and recommendations of the book will in future serve to provide input at a policy level in all the countries involved.

Contact person: Phenyo Mokgothu
Contact details: [email protected].

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