Offering psychosocial support (PSS) and livelihood training should be an integral part of humanitarian response in crisis situations. These services are as important as shelter, water, and food. The World Health Organisation states that prevention and early intervention in relation to mental health are cheaper in the long-term. Economics aside; it is the right thing to do. Mental health remains a basic human right.
PSS for migrants
For those on the move, migration can feel like a continued state of crisis, in part due to the uncertainty of the future, or trauma experienced during their journey. PSS is a simple, yet powerful way of helping individuals who are in distress. It helps by stabilising individuals who have experienced trauma, and provides them with the tools they need to seek further assistance. As such, this is a much needed service for migrants, both in transit and on arrival to their destination.
Offering reliable information to (potential) migrants
By extending PPS services from migrants on the move to potential migrants, returnees and vulnerable individuals in their home countries, organisations offering PSS can prevent people from rushing into irregular migration decisions, which would expose them to additional risks.
Seefar’s The Migrant Project (TMP) communication campaign – which aims to equip potential migrants to make informed decisions about their migration plans – has been running in Afghanistan for several years. The campaign works through social media and counselling sessions, which provides information about safer alternatives to irregular migration; from legal migration options to finding a job at home.
In 2021, over 95% of consultees we spoke to through TMP mentioned a lack of hope for the future. This was particularly the case for female callers, who felt at risk under the new Taliban regime. These feelings mean that consultees were rarely motivated to explore and invest in alternatives at home. Such a state of mind is also more receptive to misinformation, fake news and promises by smugglers and human traffickers. Many potential migrants indicated that they were willing to take on more dangerous routes. Existing literature emphasises how stress is related to increased risk-taking.
In response to the worsening situation in Afghanistan in August 2021, Seefar decided to adapt its campaign and to launch a PSS hotline called Salamat. Coached by our in-house psychologist, the counsellors offered psychosocial support over the phone to help callers better deal with symptoms of anxiety, stress and depression. The demand for the service turned out to be incredibly high – within six months counsellors provided support to 1,849 beneficiaries. Nearly half of them (973) requested a follow-up consultation, highlighting the trustworthiness of our counsellors and helpfulness of the service.
“After the recent events (in Afghanistan), our university was closed, which made me feel depressed. The only solution that came to my mind was to go to Iran and then gradually to Europe. At this time I found your Facebook page, and after 2 consultations, I felt much better. I also learned more about illegal migration risks and I can make a better decision for my future. I do not intend to migrate illegally at the moment and I am looking for a scholarship,” a caller stated.
Besides increasing knowledge on stress, anxiety and depression, counsellors helped beneficiaires explore and practice exercises to cope with such emotions. When the Salamat counsellors called consultees back, about half said they had practised the new coping strategies on a regular basis. This included actions as simple but powerful as establishing daily routines, seeking help and support from family and friends, setting goals and making a plan to accomplish them. These messages were supported by Salamat’s Facebook page, which provided instructional videos, self-care tips, motivational quotes and through which followers could find an online community of like-minded people in need of the same type of support.
In 2021, Seefar launched another project in Afghanistan; the Livelihoods Hub. Through Seefar’s LIFT (Livelihoods Initiative for Transformation) programme, which comprises entrepreneurship training, Adaptive Counselling and Confidence in Action Training, the Hub provides a space for returnees to develop more confidence, resilience and self-starting behaviour to tackle problems often associated with return. The Hub’s livelihood training modules, IT training and postgraduate support help beneficiaries in building and using an arsenal of tools and techniques for a successful future at home.
“The Taliban came and everything fell apart […], many people fled, the school and economic environment was disrupted, women were no longer allowed to study indefinitely. There was a sense of despair in everyone, but I did not give up and consulted with a friend. He introduced me to Seefar. [The trainers] taught us how to have self-confidence, how to fight problems, how to earn and identify opportunities, plannings, and computer skills. […] I have now created a YouTube channel that talks about the system of women’s rights, the rules of girls, and the teaching of the Holy Quran from beginning to end. I am getting closer to my goals. Thank you Seefar!”Tuba, female participant.
This project has shown that this combination of services helps participants be psychologically ready to engage in economic activities – whether through entrepreneurial approaches or the identification of locally available jobs.
- At the end of the project 81 % of beneficiaries showed reduced levels of hopelessness and increased levels of self-esteem. Moreover, close to 90% of the returnees had the sense of belonging to the community where they are currently.
Offering integrated services for (potential) migrants and returnees
The Livelihoods Hub, currently focussing on returnees, could complement and reinforce two trusted brands that are built by Seefar in Afghanistan, The Migrant Project (TMP) and Salamat. These brands reach a large and rising number of potential migrants in Afghanistan who are in need of psychosocial support and migration information. Seefar creates linkages between its brands by referring TMP consultees to the Livelihoods Hub and vice versa; which allows both potential migrants as well as returnees to benefit from an integrated service package.
The future of migration communication
Migration communication campaigns and reintegration programs for returnees should not only focus on providing tailor-made information, but also on advancing people’s psychosocial and socio-economic well-being.
It is necessary to approach migration communication and reintegration services- in Afghanistan and other complex locations – in a more integrated manner, offering an opportunity for potential migrants and returnees to receive psychosocial assistance while determining their own economic pathway. For inquiries, please email [email protected]
Seefar’s Livelihoods Initiative for Transformation (LIFT) programme provides participants with the tools they need to seize livelihood opportunities. The intervention consists of three core modules, each tailored to context as informed by rigorous research; Adaptive Counselling, Confidence in Action Training (CAT) and Skills Training for Livelihoods.
- Adaptive Counselling (AC): AC aims to increase psychological flexibility and prepare returnees for training and job opportunities. We pay specific attention to decreasing hopelessness and increasing general self-esteem among beneficiaries.
- Confidence in Action (CAT) training: CAT training aims build a self-starting mindset, identify new opportunities and empower beneficiaries to act quickly and develop their own ideas and plans of action through four key principles: Act Now, Look Far, Stay Focussed and Be Determined.
Skills Training for Livelihoods: Is made up of three livelihood pathways; Entrepreneurship, Direct Employment and The Ethical Recruitment Agency (TERA). It is in this final module that LIFT participants learn the specific skills required to achieve sustainable livelihoods. The appropriate livelihood pathway(s) for participant groups are chosen based on interest, market research and in consultation with experts in the field, including local CSOs. In instances where multiple pathways may be available for a group, mentors work with participants to select which is most appropriate for them.