Coping Strategies of Asylum Seekers from Sub-Saharan Africa in New Zealand

Nde, Bernard Sama
Wong, Grace
Garrett, Nick
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Master of Health Science
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Auckland University of Technology

The experiences that push people to leave their countries to seek asylum in foreign countries are stressful and in some cases traumatic. Unfortunately, in many countries, the immigration procedure that asylum seekers traverse to be officially recognised as refugees is complex and arduous. It may exacerbate their existing stress and re-traumatise them. In New Zealand, besides stress from the refugee status determination process, asylum seekers have less access to government funded resources than their counterparts, resettled refugees. Given this environment, the primary question addressed in this thesis is: what are the coping strategies used by asylum seekers to manage stress from the refugee status determination process?

To address this question, I study a sample of asylum seekers from Sub-Saharan Africa in New Zealand using an explanatory mixed methods research approach. The mixed methods design consisted of two phases. In the first phase (quantitative), I used the Brief COPE scale (Carver, 1997) to collect data on the coping strategies of the asylum seekers. The objective of this phase was to assess and describe their major strategies of dealing with stress from the refugee status determination process. In the second phase (qualitative), I used semi-structured interviews to collect data on the experience of coping from a smaller number of asylum seekers selected from the quantitative sample. The objective of this phase was to describe their perceptions and experiences of the coping strategies assessed in the Brief COPE scale, and to investigate the appropriateness of the Brief COPE scale for Sub-Saharan African asylum seekers.

Despite the stressful nature of the process, the asylum seekers tend to endorse more adaptive than maladaptive coping behaviours. Their levels of use of various coping behaviours differs significantly by the stage of their progress though their refugee claim process. Religion is a fundamental coping strategy for the sample, and self-blame is conceptualised in a different way from the Western worldview. The study also provides a new perspective on self-distraction as an adaptive coping. Lastly, the results indicate that the Brief COPE scale is appropriate for assessing coping behaviours in asylum seekers from Sub-Saharan Africa, although adaptation is recommended on two items - humour and self-distraction.

The implications of the results to New Zealand and other destination countries for asylum seekers are far reaching. They indicate that asylum seekers are endowed with strengths, capabilities and resilience in spite of the challenges and vulnerabilities they experience. Thus, they could quickly and readily grow into becoming assets to the host countries with more timely interventions, opportunities and resources. Practitioners could tap into their strengths to support them more effectively. There is a need for research about strengths-based interventions in order to promote adaptive coping behaviours, and encourage change in order to decrease maladaptive coping behaviours.

Asylum seekers , Convention refugees , Refugees , Stress , Coping strategies , Sub Saharan Africa , New Zealand
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