The World Federation for Mental Health (WFMH) highly condemns all forms of discrimination and human rights violations toward vulnerable populations, especially children.
The ongoing situation at the US Southern border region has put a spotlight on the serious abuses against refugees and the damaging effects of the separation of families. It has been well documented in peer-reviewed scientific journals that the separation of children from their parents both disrupts infant-caregiver attachment and induces abnormal neurobiological changes in the brain that increase the likelihood of early-onset psychiatric diseases such as post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.
This issue, though, is and has been occurring all over the world in areas of instability, war, violence and poverty. Refugees come from various countries, backgrounds and cultures but have in common their vulnerability of being forced to leave their countries of origin under dire or traumatic circumstances, finding themselves dependent on the care and protection of a foreign nation who may or may not have sound refugee policies. Thus, the fact that at-risk refugees who seek safe and protective havens in the country of resettlement are faced with discrimination, mental health and human rights abuses is deplorable.
Early-life trauma has been correlated with long-term treatment-resistant depression, boding poorly for the prognosis of the children separated at the U.S. southern border, at the direction of a United States government agency. We call on all governments to prioritize the promotion and protection of these vulnerable groups and ensure that the mental health and the wellbeing of this population are safeguarded. Paying special attention to the mental and emotional health of defenseless and traumatized people deserve added priority during times of frequent conflict and instability, such as the world is currently experiencing.
Of major concern to the WFMH is that the psychological consequences of the trauma created by displacement, discrimination and family separation are generally being ignored.
Psychological scars will remain for many years after the physical ones have healed and will impair the ability of millions of refugees to recover, work and contribute to economic growth. Moreover, the use of immigration detention camps and family separation as a deterrent runs counter to all human rights standards and principles.
We are one world, one people and in order to survive, we must treat those in need with dignity and respect. The WFMH call urgently on all nations to ensure that every person has the right to find safe refuge from disasters, wars and trauma and to consider the serious, immediate and long-term mental health consequences of continuing to separate and discriminate against this vulnerable population.
Prepared by the Human Rights Section of the WFMH – 28 March 2019.