Maryam (not her real name) survived years of violence after fleeing the war in Somalia. After learning to live with her injuries, with hearing regular outbursts of gunfire, and with taking her life into her hands every time she ventured out for food or water, she thought it would be heaven to live in a peaceful country like New Zealand.
But instead of finding peace, she found that she was haunted by nightmares and flashbacks of her time in Somalia and the refugee camps that followed. Unexpected sounds of gunfire from television programmes would leave her physically overwhelmed.
Overriding everything was her grief that her relatives were still living in hardship and danger in the refugee camps.
An organisation that responds to the mental health needs of refugees like Maryam is Wellington Refugees as Survivors (RAS), which helps refugees who have experienced trauma and torture.
A team of counsellors, interpreters and contract specialist staff such as psychiatrists and psychologists respond to many needs that were otherwise unmet in the community.
For a number of refugees who are worried about family members, counselling and medication can help relieve the symptoms but not the underlying causes of their anxiety and depression.
The staff of RAS are frequently asked to help with immigration applications for family members, which often requires providing documentation for which there is no funding available.
Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand has assisted in 2006 with a small grant to recognise and support the advocacy work of RAS. Wellington Refugees as Survivors can be contacted on phone 384-7279.