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Belinda

Belinda Liddell

Year of Award: 2014 Award State: New South Wales Social Welfare > Immigrants And Refugees
To establish links between brain imaging evidence and human rights/refugee frameworks - USA, Denmark, Switzerland
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Executive Summary

 

At the Refugee Trauma and Recovery Program (RTRP; http://www.rtrp-research.com/) based at the University of New South Wales, I am conducting empirical studies that investigate the neural processes affected by refugee trauma, including how torture impacts on the brain. The ultimate aim of this work is to better understand the mechanisms that underpin symptoms like posttraumatic stress to inform the development of targeted and effective treatments. But the human rights implications of this research are more unclear. My Churchill Fellowship therefore aimed to shed light on opportunities for the brain imaging/clinical neuroscience research field and human rights policy/practice sector to inform one another to better support the recovery of survivors of torture. I travelled to the United States, Denmark, Switzerland and Germany to speak with clinical neuroscientists, brain imaging researchers, clinicians, service providers, agencies and policy makers who engage in research translation or specialise in the treatment of torture survivors and refugees.

 

The findings demonstrate that there is great potential for brain imaging research to inform both clinical practice and human rights policy in the context of torture survivors. Indeed, these sectors may not be as incongruent as originally assumed. Research is perceived as essential to better understand the needs of torture survivors and to promote their human rights. Recent clarifications around the right to access to rehabilitation services as a central obligation of States party to the United Nations Convention Against Torture (UNCAT) has further highlighted the importance of research. Brain imaging research that elucidates the neural mechanisms impacted by torture is essential critical it will help point the way towards the functions that can be remedied through access to evidence-based rehabilitation. This in and of itself, has roots in the realisation of the fundamental human right to rehabilitation.

 

While opportunities for translation of brain imaging evidence into policy were identified, barriers to conducting research were also apparent. These included concern that quantitative research methods are unable to fully account for the refugee experience and that research participation may interfere with help-seeking and duty of care of practitioners. Five key themes also emerged as essential in improving the translational value of brain imaging research for torture survivors and traumatised refugees: 1) the significance of family and community interpersonal factors; 2) the role of environmental factors including contextual stressors in moderating mental health symptoms in refugees; 3) the contribution of childhood adversity on adult experiences of trauma including torture; 4) the importance of considering both functional impairment and resilience factors; and 5) innovations in brain sciences. The outcomes of this report are expected to initiate innovative research with foundations in human rights via cross-sectoral partnerships, and to build the evidence-base necessary to make informed clinical and policy decisions to facilitate the recovery of torture survivors and traumatised refugees resettled in Australia.

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