Quiet after a storm. It is an inherently positive image of recovered calm, stability, and brightening. That is not the case for migrants. At least not for all of them. Landing on our shores is the end of a nightmare for them, but there is another “monster” ahead: mental discomfort. Not many words are spent on this problem associated with migration experience and/or reception conditions in Italy, which is an increasingly worrying and severely underestimated phenomenon. Based on an analysis of needs and existing services, Doctors Without Borders, who have been providing medical and psychological support in the structures of first and second reception in Italy, asked the Italian and European authorities to adopt a reception model focused on the specificity of the needs related to mental health for this particularly vulnerable population.
“60% of those interviewed by DWB as part of psychological support activities from 2014 and 2015 showed symptoms of mental distress related to traumatic events suffered before or during migration,” explains Silvia Mancini, a DWB expert in public health and analysis curator. “In addition, asylum-seekers are found to be staying for very long periods in structures that are often in remote areas, where they remain for a long time, because of the waiting times of the outcome of the asylum procedure. This condition creates deep stress and suffering, which adds up to exile to a foreign land and to lack of any prospects”.
The few times when this does not happen, there is another problem. As in the case of Fiumicino, near Rome, where a part of the neighborhood rebelled, organizing protests against the arrival of 20 asylum seekers who have been accommodated in the city center. In this case, the feeling of abandonment is replaced by that of rejection, both of which are devastating for the already proven psychology of some of these people.
A report called Ignored Traumas is the result of a quantitative research conducted in Italy between July 2015 and February 2016 in various Extraordinary Reception Centres (CAS) in Rome, Trapani, and Milan and from data collected during the consultations DWB teams carried out in the CAS of Ragusa between 2014 and 2015. Out of the 199 patients in DWB’s care in the CAS of Ragusa, 42% showed issues compatible with the post traumatic disorder (PTSD stress), followed by 27% suffering from anxiety disorders. The probability of having psychopathological discomfort was 3.7 times higher among individuals who had suffered traumatic events.
The analysis shows that among the aggravating phenomena of mental illness, there are the particularly precarious living conditions in the reception centers. As much as 87% of the patients answered they had difficulties to live in the center. The CAS, established in 2014 as a temporary and extra measure in order to cope with the growing number of arrivals, have become an integral part of the ordinary system of reception over time, crystallizing in this way an emergency approach, not oriented towards long-term projects and inclusion in the territories.
“In the face of a widespread unease among asylum seekers, the reception system remains highly unprepared to offer an adequate response to the needs of these people,” says Tommaso Fabbri, head of DWB projects in Italy. “Besides, local health services often lack the skills and resources needed and are slow to recognize the signs of distress in these people. Professional figures such as cultural mediators, who can help to establish contact and reduce cultural distances are sporadic, sometimes entirely absent.” If the escape road was horrible, the one following their landing is not free from obstacles, disappointments, and bitterness either. In search of a better life, a quest that is growing more and more uphill.