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Traumatic events, daily stressors and posttraumatic stress in unaccompanied young refugees during their flight : a longitudinal cross-country study

Journal Contribution - Journal Article

Background Unaccompanied young refugees constitute an especially vulnerable population, reporting high rates of trauma and mental health problems. There is a significant gap in the literature on trauma and posttraumatic stress symptoms (PTSS) in unaccompanied young refugees who are still on the move and live in precarious circumstances such as refugee camps. This study therefore aimed to contribute to this gap by investigating pre- and peri-migration (potentially) traumatic experiences of unaccompanied young refugees; longitudinal trajectories of trauma, daily stressors and PTSS; and the impact of gender, trauma, and daily stressors on PTSS over time. Methods This longitudinal, mixed-method, and multi-country study was conducted in various settings (e.g. refugee camps, reception centers) across nine European countries. A heterogeneous sample of N = 187 unaccompanied young refugees (78.4% male) from 29 different countries was assessed via interviews at 3 time-points during a period of 27 months. Data was analyzed via growth curve modelling. Results Prevalence rates of (potentially) traumatic experiences ranged from 29.5 to 91.9%. Peri-migration traumatization remained stable over time (b = - 0.02; p = 0.371), but the number of reported daily stressors (b = - 0.24; p = 0.001) and PTSS scores significantly decreased over time (b = - 0.98; p = 0.004). Females reported higher PTSS compared with males at baseline (p = 0.002), but gender did not influence the longitudinal trajectory of PTSS. The pre-migration trauma load and daily stressors at baseline did not have a significant effect on PTSS at baseline or on the longitudinal trajectory. Conclusions This is the first study to document not only the high numbers of traumatic events for unaccompanied young refugees pre- and peri- migration, but also the continued traumatization during flight, as well as high rates of daily stressors and PTSS. Humanitarian and political assistance is urgently needed to curb the often life-threatening conditions unaccompanied young refugees face during migration.
ISSN: 1753-2000
Issue: 1
Volume: 16