Chapter 3: Migration-Related Trauma and Refugee Mental Health in the Canadian Resettlement Sector


Christina Hamer

In this chapter, you will learn about concepts and types of migration-related trauma associated with forced migration. As you work through the chapter, you will be able to explore the challenges for researchers, policymakers, and frontline support workers in obtaining, understanding, and categorizing information about people’s experiences during forced migration. Understanding these challenges is critical to understanding why it may be difficult to recognize and support a person who has experienced migration-related trauma. You will also learn about Canadian immigration streams designed for the resettlement of refugees with greater support needs as a result of migration-related trauma. Finally, you will learn about the challenges newcomers face in accessing mental health services in the Canadian healthcare system, the recommendations researchers have made to address those challenges, and some good practices already occurring across Canada.

When you finish the chapter, you will understand that migration-related trauma is a concept that, while heavily debated and historically dependent, helps us understand some of the challenges people face when forced to migrate and helps us find ways to better support those peoples’ resettlement in new communities.

Specific Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion of this chapter, you will be able to

  1. Define types of migration-related trauma
  2. Recognize types of migration-related trauma
  3. Identify social determinants of health and factors that create resilience in people forced to migrate
  4. Identify drivers of forced migration
  5. Differentiate arguments for the classification of drivers of forced migration
  6. Identify Canadian immigration programs that can support newcomers with higher health support needs
  7. Analyze the intersections and roles of multiple stakeholders in private refugee sponsorship situations
  8. Identify potential stakeholders in community services related to newcomer mental health supports
  9. Identify good practices occurring across Canada around refugee and newcomer mental health
  10. Identify access to mental health challenges for newcomers in Canadian health care

Key Terms

Asylum seeker An individual who is seeking international protection. In countries with individualized procedures, an asylum seeker is someone whose claim has not yet been finally decided on by the country in which he or she has submitted it. Not every asylum seeker will ultimately be recognized as a refugee, but every refugee is initially an asylum seeker.

(UNHCR Master Glossary of Terms, 2006)

Forced migration A general term that refers to the movements of refugees and internally displaced people (people displaced by conflicts), as well as people displaced by natural or environmental disasters, chemical or nuclear disasters, famine, or development projects. Forced migration is distinguished from voluntary (sometimes called economic) migration by the original absence of a desire or motivation to leave the place of residence.

(Mission of the IASFM, n.d.)

Migrant A person who is outside their country of origin. Sometimes this term is used to talk about everyone outside their country of birth, including people who have been Canadian citizens for decades. More often, it is used for people currently on the move or people with temporary status or no status at all in the country where they live.

(Canadian Council for Refugees, 2010)

Newcomer A person who has official permanent resident status in Canada. The term newcomer includes anyone who has permanent resident status regardless of the immigration stream through which they entered Canada. Newcomer is a policy term but not a legal one, so the term is used broadly but does not have a legal source.

(Canada’s Ethnocultural Mosaic, 2006 Census: Definitions, 2010)

(For an example of its use, see Statistics Canada.)

Protective factors The Canadian government lists some life circumstances as factors that can protect mental health as
  • Living in a safe community that is accepting, supportive, and free of violence
  • Having healthy and supportive relationships, which help you form meaningful connections
  • Living in housing that is clean and well maintained
  • Getting an education
  • Having a steady job

(Protective and Risk Factors for Mental Health, 2019)

Other factors that can protect mental health have been catalogued as

  • Socio-demographic factors: gender, age education level, time since trauma, immigration status
  • Psychosocial factors: acculturation in host country, faith in a religion or spirituality, family health and functioning, social support from community and peers, access to health care and education, efficient immigration experience

(Tozer et al., 2018)

Refugee A person who meets the eligibility criteria under the applicable refugee definition, as provided for in international or regional refugee instruments, under UNHCR’s mandate, and/or in national legislation.

(UNHCR Master Glossary of Terms, 2006)

A person who, owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.

(UN General Assembly, 1951)

Resilience A dynamic process of positive adaptation to significant adversity.

(Gatt et al., 2019)

Social determinants of health A specific group of social and economic factors within the broader determinants of health. These relate to an individual’s place in society, such as income, education, or employment. Experiences of discrimination, racism, and historical trauma are important social determinants of health for certain groups such as Indigenous Peoples, LGBTQ, and Black Canadians.

(Social Determinants of Health and Health Inequalities, 2020)

Trauma The lasting emotional response that often results from living through a distressing event.

(Trauma, n.d.)



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Canadian Settlement in Action: History and Future Copyright © 2021 by Christina Hamer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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