Integration or Isolation? Refugees’ Social Connections and Wellbeing
Strang, Alison B.
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Journal of Refugee Studies
Abstract The Indicators of Integration framework—a conceptual framework defining core domains of refugee integration—has had a significant impact on the discourse surrounding refugee integration and a major role in shaping policy, practice and academic debate. Drawing on an innovative participatory mapping approach, this study examined the social connections of isolated single refugee men from Iran and Afghanistan (highlighted as particularly marginalized) and the implications for their mental health and wellbeing. Findings indicated very low levels of contact with family, local friends or local services, difficulties establishing trust and few opportunities for reciprocal relationships. The article makes an important contribution to the field of refugee integration in a number of ways. It suggests that the role of trust should be made explicit within the Indicators of Integration framework and be included as a ‘Facilitator’ of integration. It challenges Putnam’s simple binary distinction between bonding and bridging relationships and suggests a new conceptualization based on a continuum between bonds and bridges. It offers theoretical innovation by bringing together the concept of reciprocity with Hobfoll’s resource-conservation model to offer new insights into the way domains of the Framework interact. Its important contribution is in critiquing Putnam’s reliance on the idealization of community solidarity and suggesting conceptualizations of integration must be informed by the impact of intersecting but differentiated communities. Two key priorities emerge for policy and practice: enabling asylum seekers and refugees to develop sufficient close bonding relationships and finding more effective ways of building knowledge and trust of relevant resources and services.