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Greenspace therapeutic for refugees

Wednesday 14 April 2021 10:41am

From sweeping beaches to a neighbourhood park, therapeutic landscapes are beneficial for former refugees’ health and wellbeing, a University of Otago study has found.

Olivia Eyles Headshot image 2021
Lead author, Olivia Eyles.

However, lead author Olivia Eyles, Geography Master of Arts student, says barriers to the use of these spaces need to be addressed.

“Former refugees face many challenges for their physical, mental and social health and wellbeing during the process of resettlement. The use of outdoor spaces can offer support in building attachment, identity and a feeling of home and their use needs to be encouraged and enabled,” she says.

The study, published in journal Sites, focuses on interviews with 15 former Syrian refugees, from four families, living in Dunedin.

Participants attached meanings and values to places, often associated with memories and experiences of their own home country. Landmarks and places that spark memories and nostalgia acted as therapeutic.

A diverse variety of therapeutic landscapes, of differing scale, were identified – from their backyards to school playgrounds and the beach or Dunedin Botanic Garden.

Nearly every participant noted the beach as a place they enjoyed spending time, specifically playing in, and watching, the water. Greenery experienced in their everyday lives was also healing and stress-reducing.

“Cities around the world would benefit in understanding the value of pristine nature spaces or public places and also start focusing on the often-forgotten small parks or corners in a neighbourhood and the role they play for being and feeling well in a place,” says co-author Dr Christina Ergler.

Barriers that prevented access to these environments included transport, time constraints and weather.

Ms Eyles says lack of a car and the perception that public transport was difficult to navigate were key issues for some participants, leaving greenspaces beyond walking distance difficult to access.

“To ensure access to therapeutic landscapes early in the resettlement process these barriers, in particular the barrier of transportation, need to be addressed to allow the utilisation of diverse outdoor places and ensure they are inclusive and welcoming for everyone,” she says.
“A better understanding of the need for support systems or respite is needed, along with knowledge transfer and sharing of easily accessible local destinations. This could be through local health promoting, therapeutic landscapes maps created by councils or resettlement organisations.

“Similarly, strategies for former refugees to overcome their barriers of immobility would also be of benefit. This could be through more support for programmes like the Red Cross Open Road driver training programme, and the provision of bus timetables and routes in other languages.”

Publication details:

Former Refugees’ Therapeutic Landscapes in Dunedin, New Zealand
Olivia Eyles and Christina Ergler

For more information, contact:

Olivia Eyles
School of Geography
University of Otago

Ellie Rowley
Communications Adviser
University of Otago
Mob +64 21 278 8200