Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

16813 “Pot of Gold AT the End of the RAINBOW”: Experiences of UNACCOMPANIED Teenage REFUGEE Girls IN CAPE TOWN

Thursday, January 12, 2012: 4:30 PM
Independence B (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Ajwang’ Warria, MSocSc, Lecturer, University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa
Kerry-Jane Coleman, Msoc sci, Research Coordinator, RAPCAN, Cape Twon, South Africa
Purpose: Children in Sub-Saharan Africa who become vulnerable as a result of ongoing conflicts, persecution and human rights abuses opt to seek refuge in South Africa. Refugee children become “invisible” as a result of violations of their rights to protection, care and development. Thus, refugee children have been explicitly recognized within international law as requiring special protection, although resettlement in another country does not in itself mean stability or that psychosocial wounds will automatically disappear (Orley, 1998). Traumatic ordeals leave refugee children vulnerable as they have additional challenges not experienced by other children (Fangen, 2006). Stone and Wintersten (2003) argue that the refugee status need not negate a child's right to heal and recover or the host states' responsibility to provide for them. The aim of the research was to shed light on the factors that lead to refugee girls arriving in Cape Town (South Africa) unaccompanied, the obstacles faced and the coping mechanisms adopted when resettling in South Africa.

Method: 5 key role players in the refugee field and 8 refugee youth participants (ages 15-17 years) were interviewed. In-depth semi-structured interviews were conducted with both sets of participants. The transcriptions of these interviews were analyzed using thematic content analysis. Coding and relating concepts was fundamental to the analysis process as the researcher continually asked questions and made comparisons (De Vos, 2010). Finally, the data was analysed in conjunction with literature reviewed and existing national and international policies on refugee children. Results: The analyses yielded descriptive information about the challenges faced by refugee youth being resettled in South Africa. Stressful life experiences identified include initial displacement, unresolved emotional wounds, xenophobia and secondary trauma. Migration was found to be a serious threat to refugee children during teen years; which impeded their growth and the reintegration processes. Survivor's guilt, emotional pain and resilience were significant in the refugee youth's life-stories. The relationships that were identified as having a major impact on their lives included: (a) reconstituted families, (b) with peers at school, (c) with God and (d) with the social worker. These were seen as stabilizing forces in their lives, as survival and coping mechanisms and for protection from exploitation.

Conclusions and implications: This study supports the ecological notion that refugees development during reintegration cannot happen in isolation, but in relation to supportive networks. The findings highlight the complexity of diagnosing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder unless a cultural formulation is applied since there were clear cultural issues impacting its presentation. Furthermore, displacement and subsequent resettlement pose unique cultural stresses that manifest in refugees as cultural bereavement. Social work therapeutic interventions must be integrated and should focus on the refugee's subjective experience of monumental losses and cultural vulnerabilities. The study offered a detailed picture on how life stories can be recorded during counselling as a way of reclaiming identities and furthermore how peer mentorship can be adopted in resettlement programmes. Training on refugee children's policies, procedures and protective interventions ought to be integrated into the social work curriculum.

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