Module 10What Can We Learn?​


The Impact of Ongoing Dislocation on Refugees


The Impact of Dislocation on Host Communities

Much can be learned from refugees and community-based service providers in host communities. Three students—Kylie Cochran from The College of St. Scholastica, Jade Tucker from the University of Wisconsin, Superior, and Natasha Reisler from the University of Minnesota, Duluth—participated in this study abroad program to learn about refugee resettlement in Germany and shared their insights and learning. [See video]  [See Transcript]

The Impact of Ongoing Dislocation on Refugees

Globally, large numbers of people continue to be dislocated from their homes due to violence and environmental destruction. This directly impacts both refugees and host communities. Implementing a human rights perspective along with a relational-cultural lens, social work professionals can engage in a variety of ways.

Social Work Generalist Practice

As reported by service providers and volunteers in Schwerin, in times of acute crisis organizations and state funded programs are often overwhelmed and community engagement is critical for the successful and peaceful integration of refugees with the community. Concrete yet flexible services are needed to assist these refugees. They need food, clothing, healthcare, housing and legal assistance. They need to learn the language of their host country. They may also need educational and vocational opportunities. Social work student Jade shared her experience-based view of the importance of becoming aware of what is happening in the world. She said:

I would encourage people, if they have the opportunity, to travel somewhere. I think a lot of the social justice issues in other countries can help teach us about our country; and the sort of issues that are prevalent there can help us be more aware of those things.

Service providers in host communities need such information about the experiences of these refugees to foster a community-wide integration process. Personal experience and face-to-face contact with refugees and their service providers can provide an impact not felt by just reading about it. Jade continued: “I’m learning so much that I knew there was to learn, but I couldn’t necessarily access at home.” Such experiences can help social work professionals in local host communities more effectively provide services by better understanding the real life experiences of these refugees. They can then further advocate for community involvement, support community efforts and recognize contributions made by volunteers. [See video]  [See Transcript]

Social workers can help community-based service providers connect with necessary resources that provide for the direct needs of refugees. They can help create programs to assist in the safe integration of refugees into existing communities and design ways to inform/educate current residents how a refugee resettlement program might affect them in order to more effectively confront potential discrimination and xenophobia. Social workers can help build social networks to connect refugees with community residents.

Social Work Policy Practice

There is a need for clear and consistent asylum policies that foster the human rights of those dislocated by violence or destruction of their environment. There may be discrepancies among international border policies and in the implementation of those asylum policies themselves because of political priorities. The ways power is used by policy-makers and the people or organizations working directly with refugees affect refugees and their host communities in many ways. Kylie shared a conversation she had with a refugee about the political violence in his homeland, and reported:

We were talking about the political situation in the Middle East, in Syria and Palestine in particular. And he was sharing some of his experience over in Syria. One of his friends was in prison and was beaten to death. And that really was a moment that was a catalyst for him, to become involved in the resistance.

Alluding to the importance of informed policy and host communities, she continued: 

I think it was really exciting to share with him. He said that this is why we have to change the American perception of the Middle East, because it’s so important for people to know what’s actually going on and what Syrian people and Middle Eastern people in general are actually like.

Informed social workers can better advocate for refugee asylum policies based on a human rights perspective as well as support legislation providing needed resources for those refugees. [See video]  [See Transcript]

Social Work Clinical Practice

Clinical social workers help refugees deal with experiences that included violence, dislocation, plus loss of family, friends and cultural practices. Assessment and interventions to support refugees arriving to host communities need to be culturally responsive and strength-based. Fostering empathic relationships is central to demonstrating respect and hospitality to those in need. Jade described an experience celebrating Ramadan with a Syrian family.

We were talking about family relations and connections… We were talking about what it's like to have siblings when they don't have any of their siblings here. That really touched me because I'm really close with my younger brother… When I tried to imagine being in their shoes, I almost broke down crying thinking that I would have to leave my brother at home; and that was what hit me most.

Natasha related her similar experience at the home of one of the “Sunday School” teachers: “I couldn’t imagine leaving my family either. I don’t know how they go through that. Like, I would just be struggling all the time. I would be crying.” Personal experiences such as these can produce a clearer picture of refugee emotional experiences and promote mutual empathy between refugee and clinical social worker that facilitates their work as Jordan (2018) proposed. [See video]  [See Transcript]

This also illustrates the importance of offering clinical services and emotional support to community-based service providers and volunteers who work directly with refugees and repeatedly hear such stories. People who work with refugees often experience this secondhand stress and trauma when hearing of these painful human experiences—making self/relational-care even more important. 

The Impact of Dislocation on Host Communities

Social Work Generalist Practice

Social workers can promote healthy integration and increased understanding about the host community to refugees and vise versa. As Jade shared:

It's been really interesting to learn both about the history of Germany, some of the history of Germany and also kind of along side of it the history of Syria and the current conflict there. I think the most impactful thing has been making connections and relationships with the Syrian refugees here in Schwerin. Hearing their stories has been so powerful and very, let's see eye opening, impactful.


Social workers can introduce creative ways to integrate RCT concepts of “The Five Good Things” cited by Miller and Stiver (1997) into programs and activities. They identify five characteristics of good relationships as: 

1. A sense of zest or well being that comes from connecting with another person or other persons.

2. The ability and motivation to take action in the relationship as well as other situations

3. Increased knowledge of oneself and the other person(s).

4. An increased sense of worth.

5. A desire for more connections beyond the particular one. 


Working to enhance good relationships within the refugee community and host community as well as between those communities promotes integration of these groups to promote healthy individual and community functioning. 

Social Work Policy Practice

Social workers can advocate for policies to provide more adequate resources for all of those in need—refugees and people in host communities alike. Social welfare funding, mental health service availability and the like are needed by people in both groups and extending services to both can potentially promote healthy community integration. 

Social workers can also advocate for policies that could help mitigate situations in countries of origin of those dislocated—ex. support policies with foreign aid to promote sustainable economic development in those countries, and foreign aid to provide services to better address violence there, plus those policies providing for investments promoting healthy and sustainable environments in these countries of origin.

Social Work Clinical Practice

Social workers can provide culturally responsive and trauma informed mental health services to refugees to address the impact from losses, dislocation, violence in home country and on travels, or violence and discrimination in a host community, domestic violence, intercultural conflict, racism, etc. Kylie shared one experience while walking in Schwerin with a refugee. She said: 

When I have been out in the town with refugees, like Rama, I've noticed a lot of racism in the way that people look, in their reactions. I walked past a group of teenage girls with Rama and, sorry it's hard. They were making gagging noises and pointing, and so that's been difficult to witness and to realize that it's happening here to such beautiful people. [See video]  [See Transcript]

Community service providers may also experience the ongoing stressors of witnessing these stories of trauma. Clinical social workers can provide supportive ways for service providers to prevent their burn out and to enhance their personal wellbeing, as well as practice such measures themselves to prevent their own burnout.

The Resiliency of Those Affected by Refugee Resettlement

Relational resiliency is the ability to connect, reconnect, and resist disconnection in response to hardships, adversities, trauma, and alienating social and cultural practices (Jordan & Hartling, 2002). Social workers can focus on strengthening relationships among refugees and host community members to promote such reconnection for integration and healthy functioning of individuals and the community itself.

Social Work Generalist Practice

Providing opportunities to be affiliated with community-based programs, religious organizations, and educational institutions can help people feel safe and let them know “that they matter”. Service providers in Schwerin worked to provide ways of interacting that support authentic connections — such as the creation of “connection cafes”, “Sunday schools”, and other social events. Social work student Natasha cautions: “people don’t treat individuals with refugee status as human beings. They just treat them as refugees, and I think people forget that they are human beings just like us.” Really seeing refugees and recognizing the resiliency they demonstrate in their daily lives is important for service providers as well as members of the host community. Social workers can assist in that process. 

Social Work Policy Practice

Recognizing that empathy can be intrinsically woven in policy development, social workers can advocate for refugees and community-based service providers. As social work student Jade stated: “To be a social worker means we can't turn a blind eye, even if it's not our specific field, because it does impact all issues.” Social workers can also support opportunities for refugees to take action on their own behalf as they integrate into a new community. [See document: Judith Jordan, Relational-Cultural theory; [See video]  [See Transcript]

Social Work Clinical Practice

One of the concerns refugees may experience is a sense of isolation and loss of identity when they reach their host community. This affects their general wellbeing. Natasha related what a refugee said to her:

Well, she was born in Germany; but she has…Turkish roots....She doesn’t feel like she belongs either in like Turkey or Germany; and she even asked us “Who do you think I am more? What culture am I anymore?”

Natasha’s reaction illustrated another emotional issue in working with refugees. She said: 

I just looked at her and I was like I have no idea. So I couldn’t even imagine trying to pick a side or being confused about like who I am as a person and where do I belong….So that just really hit my heart pretty hard.

From a relational-cultural lens, Vicario (2015) describes five relational resiliency factors that contribute to wellness and a sense of connection with themselves and others. One of those resiliency factors is the ability to experience authentic connections with others. It is important for people to be able to give and receive support from one another. A second resiliency factor is the ability to influence our experiences and relationships and to take action on behalf of ourselves. A third resiliency factor is to have a shared sense of belonging to a group and/or a community that brings happiness, hope, and courage. A fourth resiliency factor is the ability to have a sense of who we are that grows in relationships in which we feel known and valued; in relationships that support and encourage us to overcome challenges; and in relationships where we can be uniquely who we are. The fifth resiliency factor is having access to persons who contribute to our development and are responsive to our needs.

Clinical social workers can help build important bridges of connection with people by actively and empathically listening to their stories and offering safe opportunities for them to connect with others. It may also be beneficial in clinical work to identify factors and activities that provide a sense of calm, acceptedness, resonance and energy (C. A. R. E.) for refugees and service providers to assist them in achieving and maintaining healthy functioning even in stressful situations. 


Jordan, J.V., & Hartling, L.M. (2002). New developments in relational-cultural theory (p. 60). In M. Ballou & L.S. Brown (Eds.), Rethinking mental health and disorder: Feminist perspectives (pp.48-70). New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Miller, J. B., & Stiver, I. (1997). The healing connection: How women form relationships in therapy and in life.Boston: Beacon Press.


Vicario, M. (2015). The Five Resiliency Factors. Unpublished materials. 

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