Emotional Desolation:
Opening a Conversation on Displaced One’s Emotional Challenges

Screenshot from “The Red Turtle” a 2016 animated fantasy drama film co-written and directed by Michaël Dudok.

This article was last updated on August 27, 2023.

I am composing a report concerning the psychological hardships faced by refugees. I have been deeply engaged with this subject for an extended duration, during which I have conducted numerous interviews with diverse individuals. My research has illuminated the significance of emotional connections. When people of varying ages, genders, nationalities, and backgrounds unite due to shared difficult experiences and formidable psychological challenges, certain issues become prominent.

From basic friendships to romantic relationships, prevalent gender stereotypes related to individuals from the Middle East or Africa, along with a prevalent colonial bias against them, have resulted in certain experiences. These experiences involve regarding humans as sources of sexual and emotional satisfaction, only to discard them akin to batteries, and then seeking fresh sources once the current ones are depleted. The dynamics of power and control held by citizens, coupled with an excessive focus on individualism that leads them to overlook the refugees’ histories and living conditions, significantly contribute to psychological distress.

In my interviews with refugees, a recurring theme is the absence of meaningful dialogue and the indifference of others towards their emotions. During a conversation with a 36-year-old man from Syria, he tearfully conveyed how citizens often perceive them as lacking emotions and impervious to pain. He shared the story of his partner abruptly ending their relationship without any discussion, accusing him of harassment when he attempted to initiate a conversation. This partner even threatened police involvement.

I also had a personal encounter when discussing feelings of loneliness and isolation with my therapist. To my surprise, she suggested that having a girlfriend could resolve these issues.

In a conversation with a 25-year-old man from Mali, he detailed how some volunteers on Lesbos island treated people like him as mere sexual objects, disappearing after a single encounter and ignoring subsequent messages. This pattern was observed in several squats in Athens, where volunteers refrained from personal engagement with the residents.

Feelings of neglect, the consistent sense of others’ superiority, language barriers, and cultural disparities further exacerbate the challenges. This distress, in turn, intensifies feelings of isolation. When the perception is that people are unwilling to invest time and space in mutual understanding, a sense of detachment from society deepens. This feeling has become even more prevalent post the Covid crisis.

In a complex scenario, a refugee man and a European citizen find themselves entangled in a romantic relationship. However, after a few months, the relationship takes a turbulent turn as communication breaks down, leading to an unfortunate separation initiated by the woman. The man’s attempts to engage in dialogue are met with woman’s rejections. Amid escalating tensions, the man raises concerns about the woman’s behavior, labeling them as abusive. In a bid to address the issue, he contemplates talking to mutual friends and reporting to her department.

On the other side, the woman counters the man’s claims by accusing him of making threats against her personal safety by life-threatening. She opts to sidestep any form of dialogue, resorting to threats of legal action if the situation continues.

A prevalent and stereotypical narrative that highlights the intricate nature of interpersonal dynamics, revealing the varied forms of racism and discrimination that can infiltrate such connections. When certain individuals attempt to end a relationship, the available options might seem restricted, as they benefit from the power and dominance dynamics inherent to their citizenship.

Neglecting the emotions and traumas of the other person seems to be the main reason for such behaviors. It is crucial to address this issue without perpetuating harmful stereotypes. It’s important to approach the subject in a balanced and nuanced manner, considering the individual experiences and complexities involved. This approach ensures that the discussion remains respectful and avoids generalizations that can further marginalize already vulnerable groups.

A single mother from Afghanistan conveyed, “You are reduced to being a refugee with numerous life challenges. How can you share your feelings with someone who views you in such a light? Men seek you for their pleasure, but they evade responsibility for your children and life struggles. As a woman, you have needs but lack of any control.”

Similarly, a single mother from Ukraine shared a comparable narrative. She highlighted how people often assume she’s open to casual, one-night encounters, perpetuating a condescending view. The experience of being belittled, along with the pitying yet patronizing glances directed at her and her child’s situation, makes her interactions with society challenging. Stereotypical and racist inquiries about conditions in Ukraine further compound her difficulties.

Raya, a resident from Bulgaria, shares her experience of facing unwarranted pressure from her landlord for a sexual relationship while discussing rent-related issues. Behaviors who seems to be influenced by prevailing sexual stereotypes associated with Eastern European women. When Raya confronted this conduct, the landlord mentioned the possibility of legal action, alluding to violent behaviors and unpaid bills.

Zahra, a 23-year-old from Iran, recounted, “We are living in a society, a week without meeting someone equates to the end of the relationship. They then tell you, ‘I’ve fallen in love with someone else!'” Zahra explained me while she was seeking some answers on her partner’s behaviors after break up, she have been accused by him to acting psychotic and putting his life in danger.

Certain behaviors entail citizens exercising the power granted by laws, not necessarily due to being abusive. Instead of conversing and seeking mutual understanding, the initial presence of legal consequences spares them from investing time. Another motive for threatening legal action by citizens mainly rely on cultural stereotypes which is accompanied by prejudgment and, refugees/migrants general lack of knowledge about laws and rights, which stops them from proceeding.

While many believe that donating clothes, food, or funds suffices for aiding refugees, the truth is that this represents just a small portion of the solution. To genuinely effect change, we must comprehend the refugees’ circumstances and their most pressing needs. This involves recognizing the trauma they have undergone, navigating cultural barriers, and addressing the distinct necessities of their communities.

In today’s world, we all confront diverse challenges. However, when one is a refugee dealing with societal stereotypes, combined with deprivation, discrimination, racism, family cohesion, and the stress of administrative procedures due to their unique circumstances, the pursuit of emotional satisfaction becomes an ongoing source of distress. This inevitably contributes to feelings of identity crisis and isolation. This is a form of violence that is generally invisible and not in consideration.


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