The closure of the Balkan migration route in 2016, had implications for unaccompanied refugee minors (URMs), given that the vast majority, who perceived Greece as “stopover” for their desired final destination, were forced to remain in the country for an indeterminate period of time. This created for URMs a challenging situation of living "in limbo” uncertain about their future awaiting for a long time the outcome of their asylum application. This cross-sectional study aimed to explore the mental health of URMs, who arrived in Greece in 2016.  The sample comprised 90 URMs (76 boys), aged 13-17 years, consisting of 46 Syrians and 44 originating from other countries. Participants completed socio-demographic information and a range of clinical measures, including Children’s Revised Impact of Events Scale (CRIES), Depression Self-Rating Scale (DSRS), Children's Post-Traumatic Cognitions Inventory (cPTCI), a measure of trauma exposure and perceived social support. Syrian URMs were significantly more likely than URMs originating from other countries to score within the probable clinical depression range (71.7% versus 47.7% respectively, p=0.020), to display probable posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), i.e., score within clinically significant range of posttraumatic stress symptoms and negative post-trauma cognitions (87% versus 65.9%, p=0.018), and meet the comorbidity PTSD/depression criterion (65.2% versus 40.9%, p=0.021).  Multiple linear stepwise regression analyses showed that legal status (seeking asylum in Europe through family reunification procedure) significantly predicted higher levels of depressive symptoms (β=0.29, p=0.004), posttraumatic stress symptoms (β=0.21, p=0.034) and negative cognitions (β=0.33, p=0.001). The total number of stressful/traumatic experiences and male gender were found to be significantly related only with posttraumatic symptoms severity score (β=0.29, p=0.003), whereas lower levels of perceived social support were associated with increased levels of depressive symptoms (β=0.24, p=0.018) and negative cognitions and appraisals of the world and the self (β=0.26, p=0.008). These findings highlight the burden of living “in limbo” situation and add weight to the argument for amending restrictive EU asylum policies and accelerating the family reunification procedure under Dublin-III Regulation, as well as the pressing need for improved URMs access to mental health services and psychosocial support.

KEYWORDS: Unaccompanied refugee minors, PTSD, post-trauma negative cognitions, depression, traumatic experiences.

Ioanna Giannopoulou, Lida Mourloukou, Vasiliki Efstathiou, Athanassios Douzenis, Panagiotis Ferentinos


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