Ryan Essex, Erika Kalocsanyiova, Nataliya Rumyantseva, Jill Jameson
The adverse, often protracted, and liminal nature of the refugee journey mean that trust has particular relevance for refugee populations and particularly refugee children and families. Trust can be broadly described as an “accepted vulnerability to another’s possible but not expected ill will (or lack of good will)”. In other words, trust is based on the expectation that we will not be exploited, harmed, or taken advantage of by other individuals, organisations, or institutions. Throughout the refugee journey, it will often be unclear who or what can be trusted, distrust may serve as a means to survive and many may have little choice but to trust those who are otherwise untrustworthy. In resettlement, even in ideal circumstances, many will continue to face uncertainty, navigating a new culture and language, new systems, and institutions. Many will face ongoing difficulties within their own communities and discrimination from society more generally and at the hands of government policy.
In a recent systematic review, we found that trust was critical in resettlement of refugee children and families. Trust shaped resettlement experiences and in turn was shaped by the resettlement process itself. Trust was often a precursor to re-establishing relationships, to health and social wellbeing and more generally managing the resettlement process, all of which have a significant impact on how refugee children and families coped and adjusted in resettlement. A number of studies within our review set out specifically to explore the experiences of unaccompanied minors. Many detailed a generalised and pervasive distrust. Níraghallaigh (2014), for example, set out to explore the predictors of trust or mistrust amongst a sample of unaccompanied minors resettled in Ireland. This study suggested that amongst unaccompanied minors resettled in Ireland, a number felt they could not trust or be trusted, that is, they felt suspicion from the Irish public and institutions; unfamiliarity with people in Ireland; and concerns about truth telling, that is, for some, lying occurred because of a lack of trust: for example, they felt unable to tell their true reasons for leaving their countries of origin because of fears of repercussions. Studies also suggested that trust shapes a number of other encounters. For example, trust in healthcare professionals and in the healthcare system influenced whether children sought help. Majumder et al. (2015), for example, found that amongst a number of unaccompanied refugee minors resettled in the UK, there was a general mistrust of healthcare services. Many saw health professionals as representatives of the state and were fearful of deportation.
In beginning to build trust, there is no one size fits all approach. Our review re-enforces the idea that trust is first and foremost a relational concept. That is, trust is “created, negotiated, sustained, confirmed or disconfirmed” amongst individuals, groups, or other social entities. This means that what trust means for each person, between different individuals and groups, will vary substantially. Furthermore, how we negotiate and maintain trust over time can shift substantially. Trust is not static and exists along a number of continuums. That is, over time, trust could be built in one area, and eroded in another. With time, we may expect children to trust more; however, this is not always the case and is dependent on a number of factors; trust can be damaged more easily than it is built and the actions of other trustworthy and well-meaning individuals may negatively impact trust. Finally, trust is also contextual. Our review provided insight into how a country’s policies may substantially impact the temporal trajectory of trust and set the bounds of how trust is approached between individuals and groups. In short, refugee children are resettled in vastly different countries, which offer vastly different resettlement experiences.
The literature on trust in this field paints a complex picture, but it does not leave us without direction. Generally, supportive individuals and institutions are important foundations for trust. This can be achieved through simple, often routine steps; consistency of care, taking the time to listen, communicate effectively, and understand experiences, acting transparently and, more generally, treating refugee children with respect and dignity. Trust also requires cultural awareness and broader awareness of the impact of resettlement, including how broader social and political forces may negatively impact trust.
To read our full systematic review (which is open access):
Essex, R. Kalocsányiová, E. Rumyantseva, N. & Jameson, J. (2021). Trust Amongst Refugees in Resettlement Settings: A Systematic Scoping Review and Thematic Analysis of the Literature. Journal of International Migration and Integration. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12134-021-00850-0