Resilience of refugees displaced in the developing world: a qualitative analysis of strengths and struggles of urban refugees in Nepal

Confl Health. 2011 Sep 24;5(1):20. doi: 10.1186/1752-1505-5-20.


Background: Mental health and psychosocial wellbeing are key concerns in displaced populations. Despite urban refugees constituting more than half of the world's refugees, minimal attention has been paid to their psychosocial wellbeing. The purpose of this study was to assess coping behaviour and aspects of resilience amongst refugees in Kathmandu, Nepal.

Methods: This study examined the experiences of 16 Pakistani and 8 Somali urban refugees in Kathmandu, Nepal through in-depth individual interviews, focus groups, and Photovoice methodology. Such qualitative approaches enabled us to broadly discuss themes such as personal experiences of being a refugee in Kathmandu, perceived causes of psychosocial distress, and strategies and resources for coping. Thematic network analysis was used in this study to systematically interpret and code the data.

Results: Our findings highlight that urban refugees' active coping efforts, notwithstanding significant adversity and resulting distress, are most frequently through primary relationships. Informed by Axel Honneth's theory on the struggle for recognition, findings suggest that coping is a function beyond the individual and involves the ability to negotiate recognition. This negotiation involves not only primary relationships, but also the legal order and other social networks such as family and friends. Honneth's work was used because of its emphasis on the importance of legal recognition and larger structural factors in facilitating daily coping.

Conclusions: Understanding how urban refugees cope by negotiating access to various forms of recognition in the absence of legal-recognition will enable organisations working with them to leverage such strengths and develop relevant programmes. In particular, building on these existing resources will lead to culturally compelling and sustainable care for these populations.