This is an image taken where the tetonic plates of North America and EuroAsia meet in Iceland. It is an image capturing the effects of millions of years of an ever-changing earth.
Iceland is in a unique position in the world’s history to be deliberate, thoughtful, and forward thinking on global forced migration. People will continue to be forced from their homelands. As technology in all forms makes borders more porous, and cultures more fluid, isolation on the global stage is/and will continue to be less viable. Sometimes the United States toys with isolationism out of fear, but that position is unsustainable in our global era.
We who work with forced migrants (refugee being a legal determination, whereas ‘force migrant’ captures a broader definition) have learned a lot more about the life course of those displaced. Life course describes birth, growth, adulthood, aging, and generations before that shaped each individual. In social work, the life course of an individual/family/community is inseparable from the factors/forces in the environment that shape us and that we shape.
Many agencies must focus on the immediate needs of those displaced. Resettlement is often measured in 1-2 years. Yet, resettlement is a life long experience. Each milestone that one anticipated in their country of origin, becomes a moment of grief in their resettled home: births, rites of passage, aging. With these moments of sadness is often a feeling of isolation, knowing that what feels most familiar to you is foreign to others, and often goes unnoticed: religious holidays, markings of time.
We know a lot about post traumatic stress disorder. We know the symptoms to look for. What we know about less, is what that looks/feels like 20, 30, 40 years after the trauma. What was once a hyper-vigilant response might decades later exhibit as fainting spells, memory loss, weakness in the legs. Individuals and providers not realizing the long-lasting effect of trauma may not understand the relationship between the current symptom and the past trauma. Why is this important?
Because if we want to help people resettle after displacement, we need to develop interventions today that will help the resettled individual 20, 30, 40 years down the line. Our success needs to be measured in how the child who arrives today is in 20 or more years when they are an adult about to have their own child. How are their parents? How prepared and welcoming is their community for the new child?