Casa Refugiados: Advocacy and Support for Refugees and Migrants

Big Question: What is Casa Refugiados and how are they working to fight xenophobia and to support refugees and migrants? Why does this matter, and how will your work contribute to their mission?

Time Commitment: 90 minutes 

Personal Reflection: Why are you interested in Casa Refugiados? What do you hope you will get out of collaborating with them? What challenges do you anticipate? Take 5 minutes to write.

Why This Matters: As a Casa Refugiados fellow, you need to learn about the work that they do, why it’s important, and what your role will be as a fellow. Casa Refugiados is a Human Rights organization in Mexico City dedicated to educating the public and engaging with their community about refugees and forced migration. This kind of work is critical to combating xenophobia and anti-migrant violence, as well as educating the public about the value of interculturalism. Their mission also includes providing humanitarian assistance to refugees, which is important for supporting them during the resettlement process. 

Diving In, Part 1: What is Xenophobia and how does it connect to colonialism and structural violence?

What is Programa Casa Refugiados (PCR)? Here is a summary of the work they do translated to English. How do they combat Xenophobia and support migrants and immigrants in Mexico?

Take a look at their page and write about anything that interests you. How does their mission align with your own values and experiences? What do you think is important about what they do? Now watch this TedTalk presented by José Luis, the PCR program director. You can also read this transcription translated to English. 

How does he explain structural violence? What does he say we can do about it, and do you agree? Take 5 minutes to write down your thoughts.

What is xenophobia? Though José Luis doesn’t explicitly say it, Xenophobia is a key component of structural violence. Xenophobia, which is fear of the “outsider,” is an issue all over the world, including Mexico City, where PCR is based and where victims of forced displacement, predominantly from Central America, migrate north. Recently, the number of people migrating from Sub-Saharan Africa and South America is increasing.

To understand why this happens, we need to first interrogate the global processes of colonization and imperialism that are often the root of issues like displacement. What do you know about the history of US intervention in other countries? Or, if you don’t have a solid background in US foreign relations, what do you expect its relationships with other countries look like? These two articles (article one and article two) published in The Guardian will help you deepen your knowledge about the link between US foreign policy and Central American violence as well as about xenophobia and racism in Mexico. What are the links between the two? What are the similarities and differences between xenophobia in the U.S. versus in Mexico? 

Take 5 minutes to answer these questions.

To combat xenophobia, Casa promotes cultural exchange and engages the migrant and local community through festivals celebrating different cultures, providing peace education workshops, and shared job opportunities, as the webpage about their education initiatives suggests. Think about these questions: do you believe in the value of education as a tool to prevent xenophobia? Is peace education enough?

Diving in, Part 2: What is (forced) migration and what are some factors that contribute to it? 

Because you will likely be working with people who have been forced to migrate because of violence, it’s necessary to understand and learn about the processes of (forced) migration and why it happens.  

Reflection: How have you come to understand immigration and/or migration in your communities? How have you learned about it? Take 5 minutes to write. 

Watch this recording of the panel event Forced Migration: Advocacy, Resistance, and Inclusion in Mexico City, Philadelphia, and Around the World at Haverford College. Two representatives from Casa Refugiados attended. Here is the English version and the Spanish version (~96 minutes). Focus on Casa Refugiados’ presentation if you don’t have enough time to watch the whole thing (minutes 8-31). While you’re watching, have these questions in mind: how is forced migration defined? What does it look like in different countries/contexts? What does integration look like? How does Casa work to educate people about the importance of integration, solidarity, and cultural exchange? What are their values?

Dive in, Part 3: What are some of the psychological effects of forced migration and the adjustment process to different cultures/spaces so you can be better equipped to engage with people who have had traumatic experiences?

Working with Casa requires learning about the psychological effects of forced migration and the adjustment process to different cultures/spaces so you can be better equipped to engage with people who have had traumatic experiences. We need to ask ourselves how to help migrants feel comfortable and safe in their new communities, and how to promote integration without assimilation. You do not want to re-traumatize the people you’re working with. Here are some key points from “Trauma and Mental Health in Forcibly Displaced Populations: An International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies Briefing Paper,” and take a look at if you have the time (~20 pages).

  • According to the 1951 Refugee Convention, a refugee is a person who is unable or unwilling to return to his or her country of origin due to a well-founded fear of persecution on the basis of race, religion, nationality, political affiliation or group membership.
  • Refugees often are exposed to multiple traumatic events in the context of war, persecution and displacement. These experiences, which are often prolonged, repeated and interpersonal in nature, have adverse effects on mental health, particularly on children. 
  • In addition to trauma during migration, in the post-migration environment, trauma comes about through a lack of resources, family separation, social isolation and discrimination, socioeconomic factors, and immigration and refugee policies. 
  • Lack of access to specialized care and financial/practical resources, the high cost of traditional clinical treatments, lack of access to interpreters, divergent conceptualizations of mental distress, lack of knowledge regarding mental health care in the host country, and stigma related to mental illness and lack of trust arising from persecutory experiences may exacerbate mental health issues and prevent people from accessing available treatment.
  • Public Health Policy Solutions:
    • Provision of evidence-based treatment at no cost (with interpreters if required)
    • Increased competence in the culturally-informed delivery of evidence-based interventions in the healthcare systems of host countries 
    • The creation of complementary treatment, training and research facilities for refugees and asylum-seekers in settlement countries 
    • The involvement of individuals from a refugee background in mental health programming and implementation
    • Provision of stigma-reduction programs
  • Immigration and Settlement Policy:
    • Provide critical resources to facilitate positive adaptation in refugees and asylum-seekers, including enhancing individual capacity for resilience and strengthening family and community supports
    • Consider the negative mental health effects of restrictive immigration policy and how psychological symptoms may impact on legal processes related to immigration status resolution
    • Prioritize the reunification of families to protect vulnerable children and adolescents.
  • Clinical Practice:
    • Implement evidence-based treatments (such as trauma-focused interventions for PTSD) where possible and via a trained interpreter if required 
    • Consider how the cultural background of the client, the context in which the client is living (i.e., refugee camp, settlement country) and daily stressors impact on psychopathology, and how clinical practice can be adapted to accommodate these factors
    • Consider family and school contexts when working with forcibly displaced children and adolescents.

Reflection Questions: What are the psychological effects of forced migration? What does social support look like? From what you now know about Casa Refugiados, how does the organization’s mission and initiatives play into this? How can you incorporate what you’ve learned from this essay in your own work? Take 10-15 minutes to answer these questions however you would like, then share with a partner.

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Page Completion – Outcomes:

Now that you have completed this page and the readings, videos, and activities within it, you should have strengthened your understanding of: 

  • the mission, vision, and work of Casa Refugiados; 
  • xenophobia and strategies to combat it; 
  • the connection between US/Western imperialism and structural violence in Latin America; 
  • the psychological effects of forced migration.

Related Pages:

If you enjoyed this page and are interested in exploring topics adjacent to it, check out the pages on Cultural Humility and Power, Intercultural Praxis and Structural Violence.

Sources:

Agren, David. “Caravan Forces Mexico to Confront Mixed Feelings on Migration.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 9 Nov. 2018, www.theguardian.com/world/2018/nov/09/migrant-caravan-mexico-response-rich-poor-supplies-complaints. 

Borger, Julian. “Fleeing a Hell the US Helped Create: Why Central Americans Journey North.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 19 Dec. 2018, www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/dec/19/central-america-migrants-us-foreign-policy. 

Luis Loera, José. “Construyendo La Paz Desde El Refugio | José Luis Loera | TEDxTlalpan.” YouTube, TEDxTalks, 26 Sept. 2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=zyZ3XYdbShU&ab_channel=TEDxTalks. 

Nickerson, Angela, et al. “Trauma and Mental Health in Forcibly Displaced Populations: An International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies Briefing Paper.” International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, 9 Nov. 2017, istss.org/getattachment/Education-Research/Briefing-Papers/Trauma-and-Mental-Health-in-Forcibly-Displaced-Pop/Displaced-Populations-Briefing-Paper_Final.pdf.aspx.