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Addressing the consequences of forced migration remains mainly in the realm of public actors and policies. In SEREDA, we focus on identifying how a wide range of service providers address and act on Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) in forced migration. 

We aim to understand how different actors identify the legal and institutional framework for their activities in SGBV, how they seek and mobilise resources, and how they engage with survivors. We aim to examine and explain the extent to which existing services can become more targeted, integrated, and effective. Moreover, we seek to contribute to the design, development, and implementation of policy alternatives that affectively address the needs of survivors across our case countries (the UK, Australia, Sweden, and Turkey) and globally. One of our main research findings points to a pressing need for SGBV-informed service provision in the forced migration context from displacement to settlement.

The impact of trauma suffered by survivors of SGBV throughout their journey can lead to seemingly insurmountable problems. Causes of trauma include violence, war, conflict, abuse, neglect, loss, and other harmful emotional experiences. Survivors of trauma may suffer long-term physical and psychological damage resulting in different degrees of emotional, biological and/or cognitive impairment. Displaced persons in general -and SGBV survivors in particular- suffer a continuous layer of anxiety due to uncertainty about legal status, precarious working conditions, substandard housing, and discrimination. Such anxiety exacerbates trauma that spans the SGBV survivors’ past, present and future. In contexts of displacement, humanitarian protection principles highlight the need to facilitate access to services that promote recovery as well as protect from harm.

Our findings suggest, however, that there are many challenges that prevent these principles from being applied in the everyday lives of SGBV survivors. First, although there is extensive collaboration and mobilisation of resources to meet displaced persons’ basic needs, such as food and shelter, mental health and psychosocial services (MHPSS) aiming to cope with the trauma-induced needs of displaced people remain relatively inaccessible or need further improvement. Second, whenever and wherever MHPSS are available, there is a considerable need to integrate medical and psychological practices that extend beyond healing the experience of war, conflict, and emergency in the country of origin. The trauma suffered by displaced persons is constituted by experiences lived through not only in the countries of origin but also in the countries of refuge. Accordingly, trauma can be the result of both experiences of violence and conflict during humanitarian crisis and, equally, a continuous anxiety induced by the experience of daily lives of deprivation in a foreign land. Thus, our findings suggest a need to adopt a holistic public policy approach to SGBV in countries of refuge.

When viewed through the lens of the forms, causes, and consequences of SGBV, existing vulnerabilities, inequalities, and insecurities in forced migration processes and contexts become more evident and may even appear overwhelming. Our findings indicate that programmes aiming to tackle the challenges of SGBV in forced migration could more effectively address the consequences of physical, psychological, and structural harms through an integrated policy approach. As such, a good start for improving existing services would be thinking through the design of policies that address the causes and consequences of trauma at the individual level while also accounting for how it may impact settlement and social integration processes.

Another task would be to involve as many qualified policy actors and service providers as possible while implementing policies that aim to address the psychosocial needs of SGBV survivors. Investing in the training of health care practitioners, social workers, and the various settlement service providers about the multiple needs of SGBV survivors is highly likely to promote long-term and global capacity development for this issue. This SGBV-informed service provision approach would require both the mobilisation of public resources and community engagement practices that involve both the receiving societies and the displaced groups. Our findings imply that public policy makers and service providers need to focus their efforts more on creating a safe context for SGBV survivors. One way to do this could be by embedding sustainable programmes that ease the healing of trauma for SGBV survivors within programmes enabling the social and economic integration of displaced persons. Promoting interaction between SGBV survivors and receiving communities in processes that promote health and well-being in working life, housing, and education is highly likely to provide support for SGBV survivors on their path to self-reliance in constructive ways that last.

Blog written by Dr Saime Ozcurumez, SEREDA Project Researcher, Bilkent University, Turkey.

Read more about the SEREDA Project in the Institute for Research into Superdiversity (IRiS).