ADAPT Study day: Rehab for Refugee and Migrant Populations

On Saturday 17th November I travelled to Birmingham to join the ADAPT study day on Rehab for Refugee and Migrant Populations. I have always enjoyed attending the ADAPT study days, and come away feeling inspired and full of ideas of how I can begin working overseas!

I thought back to the first ADAPT study day I attended 2 years ago in London. At the time I had only been working as a Physiotherapist for 1 year, but I already couldn’t wait to begin working overseas. Networking at the Study day allowed me to understand the importance of gaining further experience of working before going abroad so that I would be as prepared as I could be to offer help rather than hinder the populations I would be working with. Fast forward 2 years and I am now Treasurer of ADAPT, I have also set up my own committee to support those wishing to work overseas (The Northern Network of International Rehabilitation), I have worked for a year with the charity Freedom from Torture who work to support refugees and asylum seekers who have been tortured in their home countries, and I am about to spend 3 months volunteering in Madagascar alongside local physiotherapists. What a difference 2 years can make!

Introduction to the Study day
Alice Edginton-Harvey the Chair of ADAPT introduced the study day and explained that there are currently 68.5 million forcibly displaced people worldwide. According to the UNHCR this is the highest level of displacement ever recorded. Rehab plays a vital role in the refugee population as a recorded 60% of Syrian refugee households comprise a person with a disability.

Freedom From Torture
Leah Dalby, Physiotherapist with Freedom from Torture (FFT) then spoke about her wealth of experience of working with refugees and asylum seekers through FFT. Leah described how often there are many barriers to accessing healthcare for the refugee and migrant population. These barriers can include not having a permanent fixed address for GP appointments, language barriers if letters, hospital signage and appointments are in english, and being unable to afford to get to appointments.

Leah described how as the numbers of refugees entering the UK increases, Refugees will increasingly be accessing NHS services.  As therapists it is important that we understand how to treat patients who may have been subjected to torture in their home countries. As a group we discussed the PREP project (Physiotherapy and Refugee Education Project), a project which is currently being set up which aims to support physiotherapists in treating the ever expanding refugee population.


The Refugee crisis in Syria: Rehab and Protection issues
Alice then joined Jo Armstrong to discuss how rehab and protection issues can overlap. Rehabilitation groups must adhere to protection principles:

Principle 1: Avoid causing harm. This includes avoiding increasing people’s vulnerability, preventing unintended negative effects of what rehabilitation groups do, maintain dignity and safety, and avoid putting people at more risk.

Principle 2: Enable access. This explains that humanitarian assistance should be available to all who require it. It should be impartial and available to the most vulnerable, and it must not discriminate.

Principle 3: Accountability. This principle measures the change and difference humanitarian aid actually makes and how to measure it. It allows people to raise and voice concerns.

Principle 4: Participation and Empowerment. The final principle promotes self protection, encourages livelihood independence, assists people in claiming rights, and promotes self-advocacy.

Occupational Therapy in the Greek Islands
Trish Chipman, an Occupational Therapist (OT), then discussed her work in the Greek islands. Trish was mainly based on the island of Lesvos working in the Moria camp. She described how the population of this camp is made up of 37% children, 24% women and 39% men.

Trish described the overcrowding in camps with approximately 72 people to one toilet, and 84 people to one shower. Water is only supplied for 2-3 hours per day, and people would often wear nappies at night as it was a safer option than walking to the toilets were there is a danger of rape and gang violence.

Trish also explained that it has been recorded that children as young as 5 are attempting to commit suicide to escape the horrors of the camps. This fact is one which sticks with me and is too awful to understand or imagine. At the age of 5 children should be enjoying their childhood, and yet the atrocities they are faced with daily is forcing some children to contemplate taking their own life…

MSF have created a short video describing the mental health crisis in Moria:


ADAPT Debate
The study day finished with attendees dividing into groups to discuss the benefits versus harms of volunteering independently to support the Mediterranean refugee crisis. The debate evoked lots of ideas and opinions on the benefits of volunteering, but stressed the importance of working alongside a recognised organisation/charity to ensure the safety of the volunteers and refugees whilst upholding the protection principles detailed above.

If you are interested in volunteering or donating to the refugee crisis, please click on the link below to read more about the incredible work of volunteers on the Greek island of Samos.

You can also support the London based charity shop ‘Choose Love-Help Refugees’ who aim to support refugees arriving into the UK, website below.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s