Compounding of premigration trauma and postmigration stress in asylum seekers

J Psychol. 1997 Sep;131(5):463-70. doi: 10.1080/00223989709603533.


Unauthorized immigrants arriving in Western countries increasingly are being subjected to stringent restrictions while their residency claims are assessed. The present study was a investigation of premigration exposure to organized violence and postmigration stressors in 40 individuals seeking asylum who were attending a community welfare center in Sydney, Australia. Almost 80% reported exposure to premigration trauma such as witnessing murders, having their lives threatened, being separated from family members, and brainwashing; 25% had been tortured. Asylum seekers reported a marked decline in socioeconomic status. Common ongoing sources of severe stress included fears of being repatriated, barriers to work and social services, separation from family, and issues related to the process of pursuing refugee claims. More than one third had problems obtaining health services in Australia--the same number who reported similar difficulties in their home countries. Although based on a selective and culturally heterogeneous sample, the results suggest that salient aspects of the asylum-seeking process may compound the stressors suffered by an already traumatized group.

MeSH terms

  • Acculturation
  • Adult
  • Emigration and Immigration*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • New South Wales
  • Refugees / psychology*
  • Social Welfare
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / diagnosis*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology
  • Stress, Psychological / complications*
  • Torture / psychology
  • Violence / psychology