The increased promotion of mental health in the spheres of work life and personal health has, for the most part, been welcomed at all levels of society: in workplaces, in schools, and in the home. But for those seeking asylum, who live without work or a home, depression and anxiety is all too common.
A 2018 study by the Finnish National Institute for Health and Wellbeing found that up to forty percent of asylum seekers experience symptoms of anxiety and depression.
A THOUGHT EXPERIMENT
Imagine being forced to flee your home due to violence and persecution, and wandering through country after country, seeking safety in a place of peace. You have searched and waited for years, only to be denied, and denied again. Now you are told to go back from where you came.
It is through no virtue or fault of one’s own where he or she has the luck to be born. The notion of moral luck, whereby someone is blamed or praised for something outside their control, is an idea worth pondering in this respect. So too is the notion of the moral imagination: how the human, morally imaginative animal might imagine a more humane asylum process, if only to improve the mental health of their fellow humans, who just happen to be born somewhere else.
These two aspects of morality inform the human rights enshrined by the United Nations and ratified by countries such as Finland and Australia, two countries who have been criticised by the UNHRC for stretching and, in some cases, defying international law, by repatriating asylum seekers to unsafe places. Finland would do well not to go down the same path as Australia, where conditions for asylum seekers have rightly been labelled barbarous.
All of us have a right to satisfy our basic human needs. There are a handful of services in Finland committed to working with undocumented migrants, where they can eat, rest, and wash. What is lacking is the prospect of a secure future in which the needs of safety, belonging, and esteem are met—a fact that those of us in the west, so worried about own own self-actualization, might do well to reflect upon.
Given the uncertainty of their situation, undocumented migrants need someone to talk to, and someone to listen. Hence the need for accessible services offering meaningful activities, even when the legal process of seeking asylum seems to have come to a dead-end.
But with the number of asylum seekers declining, will there be a future for such services, or will Finland be content with a permanent population of undocumented migrants trying to subsist on the lowest level of the hierarchy of needs, prone to all kinds of ailments, physical and mental?
When it comes to talking about mental health, it is hard to escape the uncomfortable truth: we in the west are happy to talk about ourselves, while at the same time neglecting those who are far worse off, disconnected from home and family, alone and untethered in a bureaucratic labyrinth.
- YLE: Asylum Seekers in Finland. 18 June 2019. Accessed 18 October 2019. https://yle.fi/uutiset/osasto/news/study_4_in_10_asylum_seekers_in_finland_report_anxiety_depression/10837133
- YLE: Asylum Seeker Killed in Iraq. 16 February 2018. Accessed 18 October 2019. https://yle.fi/uutiset/osasto/news/asylum_seeker_killed_in_iraq_weeks_after_repatriation_from_finland/10071096
- UNHRC: UNHRC Urges Australia. 12 October 2018. Accessed 18 October 2019. https://www.unhcr.org/news/briefing/2018/10/5bc059d24/unhcr-urges-australia-evacuate-off-shore-facilities-health-situation-deteriorates.html