Occupational experiences of forced migrants: A scoping review

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International or internal migration as a result of unexpected circumstances, such as that experienced by forced migrants (i.e. refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced persons), can disrupt established occupations. Occupational therapists have the potential to improve quality of life by re-establishing lost occupations. Research on forced migrants has been increasing within the occupation-based literature and has the potential to inform practice with this population. Our aim was to identify and synthesise current knowledge of the occupational experiences of forced migrants.


This scoping review was conducted using the framework articulated by Arksey and O'Malley (International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 2005;8, 19). Inclusion criteria for selected articles included peer-reviewed articles published in English between 2003 and 2014 that focussed on forced migrant populations and that were written from an occupational perspective. Exclusion criteria consisted of grey literature as well as articles focussed more broadly on immigrants in general, and that failed to adopt occupation as a central construct.


Based on a total of 320 studies that were identified, 24 met the inclusion criteria. Six themes emerged as a result of the data extraction and synthesis process: occupational deprivation, occupational imbalance, occupational adaptation, occupational change, efforts to maintain and re-establish identity, and outlook for the future.

Conclusions and significance of the study:

This scoping review outlines key factors that affect forced migrants' occupational experiences and highlights gaps in the current literature. The results point towards potential practice implications for occupational therapists working with forced migrant populations to help promote culturally safe approaches.

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