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The Role of Occupational Therapy in Health Promotion of Asylum Seekers

By guest contributor: Amruta Kalburge, OTR


Worldwide, many people are displaced from their environment because of unsafe and

unhealthy living conditions such as wars, conflicts, economic challenges, and political

instability. Displaced individuals or migrants are individuals who move from one place to

another for a number of reasons. Asylum seekers are a type of migrants who move from one

place to another voluntarily in search of protection, new life, and opportunities (Mrabe, K.,

2021). These individuals must undergo an application process to be granted asylum status.

This process can take years, resulting in the rejection of asylum status. In many instances,

asylum seekers applying for asylum status in the European and Middle Eastern countries are sent

to African countries as per an agreement between the two countries (Walsh, 2022). As a result,

asylum seekers face complex daily challenges and undesired health outcomes such as anxiety,

depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (Winlaw, 2017).

Assimilation to a different culture may be a challenging process for asylum seekers who

have experienced traumatic ordeals. Occupational deprivation and isolation are major problem

areas in this population (Carswell et al., 2011). Occupational therapists with their in-depth

training in activity analysis, needs assessment, occupational performance assessment, mental

health interventions, and knowledge of community resources are ideal healthcare providers to

teach life skills and promote the integration of asylum seekers into the community.

Occupational therapists possess the skills to bring a positive change to this group of

people. However, there is a limited number of occupational therapists working with asylum

seekers globally. Occupational therapy programs can create the capacity for occupational therapy

students to be working with this population by building collaborative projects with non-profit

organizations and government. One such example is the project called “Occupational Therapy with Refugees and Asylum Seekers” at European University Cyprus in collaboration with

UNHCR, The UN Refugee Agency. In this project, occupational therapy professionals and

students performed thorough needs and occupational assessments in the population of asylum

seekers, responded to their needs, and partnered with local organizations serving this population.

Second, the Refugee Council USA promotes efforts to welcome and protect refugees, asylum seekers, and other forcibly displaced populations. The Center for Refugee Inclusion and Resettlement Excellence at the Refugee Council USA promotes cutting-edge thinking on asylum services, policy improvements, and practice innovations.


What can Occupational Therapists do?

Occupational therapy programs may pave the way for future occupational therapists by securing internships with these organizations. Currently practicing occupational therapists may also be able to offer their professional skills and improve the visibility of our profession by volunteering at non-profit organizations serving asylum seekers.

In conclusion, it is a professional duty of occupational therapists to play an active role in

removing barriers and improving access to occupational engagement for the population of

asylum seekers.



Carswell, K., Blackburn, P., & Barker, C. (2011). The relationship between trauma, post-

migration problems and the psychological well-being of refugees and asylum seekers.

International Journal of Social Psychiatry, 57, 107-119.

Mrabe, K. (2021, August 30). Exploring the role of occupational therapy and refugees.


Walsh, D. (2022, June 23). What happened when Israel sent its refugees to Rwanda. BBC World


Winlaw, K. (2017). Making the connection: Why refugees and asylum seekers need occupational


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