Refugees & Asylum Seekers: Challenges for OT

Despite the current support and the identified potential for furthering OTs role with the refugee and asylum seeker populations, there are challenges present that impact the feasibility of providing services. 

Language Barriers 

Refugees and asylum seekers often lack preparedness in regards to their host country's language due to the emergency nature of their migration despite being generally more educated than other immigrant populations (Bloch, 2004; Liebau & Salikutlik, 2016). OTs must accommodate a difference in language while remaining client-centered. Interpreters are often utilized in order to overcome this challenge (Smith, 2005). However, the setting, funding, and the availability of interpreters can impact the feasibility of an interpreter. 


This area of practice is considered an emerging area. Countries such as Australia and the UK are increasingly implementing opportunities for OT students to engage with refugees and asylum seekers during fieldwork/clinical rotations, however; many places such as the U.S. have very few opportunities available. Many OT-based concepts that are taught are applicable to refugees and asylum seekers, but extensive education specific to this population is rare (Trimboli & Taylor, 2016)

Cultural Differences 

In order for OTs to provide services in a culturally sensitive manner more information is needed on the occupational needs of refugees and asylum seeker populations (Trimboli & Taylor, 2016; Smith 2005). Traditional approaches to OT that are not culturally appropriate may unintentionally promote helplessness which can, in turn, facilitate the development and maintenance of the victim role (Smith, 2005). OTs seeking to provide services to these populations must be capable of making swift adjustments to their approaches to meet their diverse and various needs (Smith, 2005). For example, at one detention center or day services program, a group of refugees or asylum seekers may represent several different cultural backgrounds and needs. Furthermore, OTs must acknowledge potential cultural barriers to accepting support and learn how to navigate them (Trimboli & Taylor, 2016). Cultural competency is imperative with any population, but perhaps even more so for these populations.

Lack of Awareness & Funding

OT services are not standard practice for refugees and asylum seekers while integrating into new environments. A lack of awareness and access to OT services are notable barriers (Trimboli & Taylor, 2016). Government policies and a lack of funding may contribute to gaps in OT service provisions for refugees and asylum seekers (Trimboli & Taylor, 2016). 


Currently, there is limited literature available to provide guidance for OTs interested in working with these populations (Trimboli & Taylor, 2016). Additional research is needed for the relationship between the health and wellbeing of this population, their occupations, and occupational therapy-based interventions in order to facilitate a better understanding of OTf's role and advocating for improved treatment of this population (Trimboli & Taylor, 2016). However, despite methodological challenges for conducting research with this population, common themes have been found regardless of nationality or resettlement location within occupational therapy and nursing literature (Whiteford, 2004, 2005; Strijkm et al., 2011).