Mourning, Large-Group Identity, and the Refugee Experience

  • Vamık D. VolkanEmail author


The refugee experience varies tremendously. I have interviewed some who barely escaped to safety by literally running over dead bodies. In October 2016, the Associated Press stated that at least 3800 refugees had died in the Mediterranean Sea so far that year in an attempt to reach Europe. We can easily imagine the “survival guilt” experienced by their relatives or friends who did not lose their lives. I also have interviewed children who were babies when they were saved and taken to a foreign place, and as they grew up they had no recollection of their parents who had been killed. Other refugees face less traumatic but still impactful conditions.

The initial care of the newcomers also varies from one host area to another. Some are kept behind barbed wires while others receive sophisticated and humane care. In this chapter I will not focus on initial care, but rather on two psychological phenomena all refugees share after their dislocations: an obligatory mourning process due to loss and its complications and a struggle with national, ethnic, religious, and other large-group identity issues. The very act of settling in a new place where natives have different shared sentiments and speak a different language inflames the newcomers’ large-group identity issues. Meanwhile, a huge number of individuals in host countries perceive the mass of refugees as “the Other” and develop hostile prejudice against them. This chapter also examines refugees as the Other.


Perennial mourning Double mourning Linking object Linking phenomenon Depositing Chosen glory Chosen trauma Psychological border 


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© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of VirginiaCharlottesvilleUSA

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