Beyond Borders Navigating The Journey.

In a world in which borders, structural and relational, act to condemn so many of those seeking refuge to death- in the Mediterranean and Aegean seas, the Sahara and Sonoran deserts, in freezing mountain ranges in the Balkans and in the back of airless refrigerated trucks- those engaged in movements of solidarity and welcome are increasingly witness to incomprehensible levels of both suffering, and of courage.

Informal Refugee Camp at Athens Port, 2017 Photo credit Marcelo Biglia

As antidote to electoral gains for the far-right, to discourses of racism and Other-ing- and the violence that is its logical conclusion- networks of community-based volunteers have mobilised in many contexts in Europe.

As antidote to electoral gains for the far-right, to discourses of racism and Other-ing- and the violence that is its logical conclusion- networks of community-based volunteers have mobilised in many contexts in Europe. A wide cohort of young and older people from diverse life paths and experiences have gotten involved in organising Search and Rescue ships and missions, mobile medical clinics, informal educational structures, hot food kitchens in places of limbo, legal guidance and advice services and places of respite and temporary refuge for those on the move. Networks of volunteer therapists, psycho-social support and social care workers have also tried to accompany and journey with profoundly brave families and individuals as they navigate exile and the deep existential dislocation that comes with forced displacement.

This work and witness, of growing collective participation in struggles for justice and rights beyond borders, has been one that has deepened understanding and practise, formed enduring relationships and been a source of empathetic community building, as well as of grief. But, increasingly, the pain takes its toll- of observing the traumatic risks and humiliations that so many women, men and children seeking refuge are forced to endure- and of recognising our collective complicity. The demoralisation of watching the consolidating necro-politic of EU asylum policies sometimes overwhelms. And when that weight- and responsibility- of witness gets heavier, there is too often a lack of supports available to process experiences around which little meaning can be made.

The project, Working For A Better World- Sustaining Civic Response, hopes to better equip organisations and volunteer networks working with refugee, asylum-seeking, migrant and undocumented communities to be able to navigate the impacts of the work.

In response to this gap, Comhlamh is participating in an Erasmus+ project over the next two and a half years- a project which has been co-conceptualised and co-created with partner organisations from Greece, Italy and Spain. The project, Working For A Better World- Sustaining Civic Response, hopes to better equip organisations and volunteer networks working with refugee, asylum-seeking, migrant and undocumented communities to be able to navigate the impacts of the work. Through working through a strengths-based, integrative, non-pathologising model (one that honours the strength and resilience of the communities worked with), the project seeks to provide accessible psycho-educational tools, trainings and processes. These resources aim to provide for better and more nuanced understanding of trauma and the brain, trauma and the autonomic nervous system, vicarious trauma, stress and burn-out/rust-out, meaning-making and mind, body and breath stabilisation and self-regulation techniques and protocols.  

Though building better self and peer-based collective care is a process that takes time, the possibilities for consolidating relevant and context-specific psycho-social and mental health supports is a project that Comhlamh believes deeply in, and is looking forward to working on over the coming two years.

Volunteers and activists have filled the vacuum of state inaction over the past years in response to the increasingly perilous refuge-seeking journeys undertaken by millions of women, men and children. Solidarity networks have responded with commitment, care, creativity and a refusal of a status quo of injustice. We hope to be able to honour that work and respond by building resources that can, we believe, be of both practical use to, and provide solace and subtle empowerment for, those on front-line and community-based contexts of witness, and of action.

by Caoimhe Butterly