Welcoming refugees:  Marion Knell offers some good tips on what to say and not say. 

 I would recommend you initially concentrate on Psychological First Aid (PFA) 

Prepare, Look, Listen and Link’

Observing body language is helpful, and listening well but with very limited questioning. 

It is important not to be intrusive in asking too much. Refugees do not need to give us all the details on what they have experienced.  For sure, let them speak about their experiences, if they wish, but we need to protect them from having to speak about them. 

I would certainly caution any agency  against ‘showcasing’ refugees, putting them on a pedestal and asking them to share their experiences.


Psychological First Aid – full info

Requesting psychological support

It may good to let refugees know that they can request psychological support, as they need it, and to have some professional trauma counsellors to whom they can be referred.  I am sure they will be hearing from one another via social media and will often spend much time on their phones.  If you can provide a space where they can talk with one another, I think that is excellent.  Psychosocial / peer support is probably as good or better than professional support, and some may already be trained in listening skills. Keeping the focus on here and now, not on there and then will help folk to accept that they are now safe, although, of course, they are still worried for their loved ones and their nation.

Translators No doubt translators will be needed in some situations. 

  • Any translators will need to be prepared/briefed for what they might hear, and likely debriefed afterwards, as they can also be traumatised by the content of sessions. 
  • The translators also need to be acceptable to the ‘clients’.  There will likely be some caution around Russian speakers, for obvious reasons of trust. 
  • The emotional content of conversations can be overwhelming for all concerned, so making sure there is plenty of time for rest and doing other things is helpful for listeners, speakers and translators alike. 
  • Translators are doing at least twice the work of anyone else.  

Ukrainian culture

Get to know as much as you can about their culture and where they are from in Ukraine – city or rural, East or West – there are huge differences in education and lifestyle in these demographics.  Young educated city-dwellers may be quite ‘Western’ in appearance and outlook, whereas more rural folk can be much poorer and more parochial in knowledge.  Few may ever have travelled outside of Ukraine before, so helping them to understand our culture and ways or doing things will be very helpful. 

Cultural pastimes

Many Ukrainians love to grow their own flowers and vegetables, so finding somewhere where they can do this, will be so helpful.

Spring is the sowing season and many will find this sort of activity very therapeutic.

Many also like crafts, so supplies of resources that enable them to do this will be important. 

I guess you could arrange a cultural evening, or international event, where they can show something of their culture as a means of building understanding with the local population. 

You may have other refugees from Syria or Afghanistan or elsewhere who could join in with such an event.

Meeting needs

Cash or vouchers to be spent on what they need themselves will be much more helpful than giving them loads of second hand clothes, toys etc, which they may not need.

Socialisation and orientation

Taking families out for coffee, or introducing them to local nature spots, showing them how to use the bus service etc, will be very useful.  

They may feel obliged to be with their host families all the time, when they would prefer to be alone, so coach your host families in being respectful for their need for privacy and space. 

The approach should be to empower them to make healthy choices for themselves as much as possible.  They do not need ‘coddling’, being taken everywhere etc. 

Showing them how things work here, and enabling them to try it themselves, is much better.  Of course, if they need to know how the benefits system works or applications for school places etc will be very helpful.   

Letting them cook their own food and have access to shops and kitchens will be very useful. 

I have heard that some churches are allowing refugees to cook large amounts of food and welcome church members, keeping the proceeds of any charges to make a little extra money.  You could consider this, provided it is legal, of course.

Some people, if not the majority, will of course be traumatised, and it is important to allow them space to open up when they want to.  The presumption needs to be that these folk are resilient and able to adapt and adjust well. However, it is so important that listeners know their limits and don’t inquire too deeply. 

Reassurance about being  safe ‘here and now’ is key. Some days they may be more inclined to share, other days not. 

There is a power imbalance being with a host.  They may feel disempowered being ‘guests’ being in a home, and may consider it rude not to answer questions when they would actually prefer not to, but can’t say ‘no’. 

It will be vey helpful to let them set the pace. 

We need to equalise the relationship by treating with respect and not creating any sort of dependency.   

Most commentators are saying not to get involved in the trauma work, unless professionally trained. 

There are many areas where mistakes could be made. 

Their main needs will be to be allowed to rest, have some privacy and basic needs met.   

Tips for Helpers

  • It is important not to diagnose or label what people are suffering
  • Be compassionate without offering informal therapy
  • Tears are normal, don’t staunch them (sit quietly and allow them to cry).
  • Practice deep breathing yourself
  • Encourage breathing deeply and evenly as a means of ‘grounding’ and reducing anxiety
  • Self-care is vital
    • Know your limits
    • Give time to other activities
    • Don’t neglect your own wellbeing
    • Don’t make yourself always available
    • Maintain good boundaries (e.g. not giving personal telephone numbers, keeping to time, not working all hours)
    • Laugh, but guard ‘dark honour’
    • Do things you enjoy
    • Prayer and meditation (regardless of faith position)
    • Maintain good sleep hygiene (routine – 6-8 hours)
    • Eat regularly
    • Be careful of self-comforting behaviours (eating, drinking, smoking, drugs, TV etc)
    • Notice your won stress levels (anger, withdrawal, being snappy)

Welcoming refugees

  • Being calm and organised
  • Setting aside enough time to go through processes
  • Expressing empathy verbally and non-verbally, not sympathy
  • Listen
  • Normalise their experience
  • Advocate for people – defend them, communicate respectfully with authorities
  • Give information
  • Show people, don’t just tell them how things work, where to get things/services

Signs of Trauma

  • Learn to recognise fight or flight symptoms – these are normal. Some people also freeze and can’t take decisions
  • Hypervigilance – being on alert, wary, jumpy
  • People don’t know who they can trust (including interpreters)
  • Fears of further displacement
  • Sense of shame at needing help
  • Lack of concern to eat, drink, stay clean, care for children
  • Deep fatigue – wanting to withdraw or sleep a lot
  • Forgetting appointments – sense of time – or paperwork for meetings
  • Memory triggers (loud bangs, cars backfiring)
  • Being stressed or anxious
  • Being angry with helpers who can’t help more
  • Low self-esteem, helplessness, hopelessness
  • Suicidal ideation

Helping Children

You asked about helping children.  The broad sheets you have shared with me look very good.  Here are some general tips.

  • Having a mix of creative art activities and outdoor games will be good. 
  • Some children will be very boisterous, playing war games, or drawing scenes of war. 
  • ‘Show and tell’ will be limited by language, of course.  But you may see that the colours chosen are limited and strong, in the early stages (often black and red).  This will soften over time.
  • Having structured games that are non-competitive, or at least where everyone is rewarded for getting involved, will be good. 
  • Children need to expend some energy and feel included. 
  • You may notice bullying or fighting, withdrawal or vacant looks in children’s eyes. 
  • Gentle encouragement is needed to help acclimatise them to being safe here and now. 
  • Laughter, songs and stories are so helpful for children. 

Needs of Families Interviewing Children


Children definitely need protecting against racism or bullying from other children in schools, but the safeguarding officers there should be responsible for this.  Children often get scolded by adults who are also trying to cope, so coaching parents about listening to children and giving plenty of affirmation, will be helpful.


Age groups

Each age group has its different presentations of trauma, but commonly you will notice some regression – bed-wetting, baby talk, losing vocabulary.  This is normal and should recover in time.  Being patient with the kids will really help.  Shame is a huge element, so quietly cleaning up and plenty of friendly encouragement will be very important.

Social media and news exposure

  • Encouraging parents to limit the news bulletins and graphic images children see is also helpful – as it is for adults. 
  • Many adults will be constantly on their phones and talking with one another in earshot of the children. 
  • Gently encouraging them to be aware of the impact on children is very helpful. 
  • Encouraging parents to watch the news once a day and after the kids are settled down, can be good.