After coming into contact at university with young refugees from Eastern Europe, I wanted at all costs to get a job with UNHCR (Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, now calling itself “The Refugee Agency”). Working in Geneva, the Great Lakes area of Africa, Indochina and Latin America, I got to know people from Rwanda, Laos, Chile and Burundi. Forcibly struck by the prevalence of trauma, I resolved to try to make this phenomenon known, for traumatised refugees applying for asylum in Europe (or in some cases already granted asylum) had been finding it practically impossible to explain to representatives of authority, and even to psychiatrists and psychologists, what they had been through and how they were suffering.
Refugees – the trauma of exile
Refugees – the trauma of exile is a compilation of papers from a five-day Red Cross workshop that I organised with the help of the International Catholic Child Bureau. It was held at Vitznau, on the shore of Lake Lucerne, in October 1987. The book was published at a time that PTSD – the occurrence of post-traumatic stress disorders – was still practically unknown. The book was widely distributed by the Red Cross societies that had attended the workshop, along with government representatives and people from non-governmental organisations.