• Between Borders is a research, policy and practice organisation bridging forced displacement with neuroscience, somatism and mental health across a range of displacement contexts, including conflict, climate change, natural disasters, statelessness, and development.


    Addressed through a mind-body-brain lens, we explore how creative therapies and dynamic coping mechanisms form an essential part of psychosocial support that can allow autonomy and dignity over personal healing and resilience-building.


    Through our global partnerships, we convene leaders from civil society organisations, displaced communities and the mental health sector to open discussions, develop awareness, promote knowledge exchange, and facilitate training and workshops aimed at building capacity among practitioners and within communities to respond robustly to mental health challenges and tap into resilience. We aim to consolidate communication channels between partners and widen opportunities for collaboration to ensure all those, including the displaced, have in stake in how we understand, educate, and mainstream mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) in policy, practice and dialogue.



  • Our mission is to prioritise mental health and psychosocial support for displaced communities and integrate neuro-somatic and psychological practices into policy, practice and dialogue.


    Our vision is to ensure all persons have access to mental health care from the point of displacement to resettlement.



    Exploring the neuro-somatic psychological impact of forced displacement and the creative avenues for healing and resilience through the arts, narrative, sports and mindful therapies.


    Bringing science and arts to open inclusive, diverse spaces to increase mental health literacy and promote artistic expression to the public, generating dialogue and understanding on the issues of social inclusion, resilience, empathy between newly resettled and host communities.


    Fostering new partnerships to create a global network between civil society organisations, institutions, researchers and practitioners to promote capacity, resources and develop neuro-somatic psychological best practices for understanding displacement and creative therapies.


    Fragmented data, information gaps and poor communication can pose serious challenges for effective support for the displaced. More than 65 million people have been displaced by war, violence or disasters across the world. Meeting the psychological needs of families and communities undergoing fundamental changes and disruption to their lives is ever more critical.


    Currently, the mental health sector is overwhelmingly reactive to large displacement crises rather than proactive in the procurement, planning and preparation stages before these emergencies break out. Critical primary care at the point of arrival in camps is based on immediate necessities such as food, water, medical aid and shelter. Yet, at the same time, people fleeing into the unknown are going through tremendous loss after losing their homes and communities and witnessing mass destruction to explosive violence. Many show themselves to be resilient over the long-term, but for others the journeys and memories can cause visceral reactions or low-lying symptoms that furment over years. In the long-term, the stress, anxiety, depression and anger can seriously impair mental health and well-being over time.


    Identifying appropriate responses requires leading our research from the point of view of displaced communities. By opening up communication channels with communities and actively listening to their needs and concerns, we can address how we can better coordinate best practices and timely interventions in refugee camps, urban settings. Our ultimate aim is to ensure that by setting up collaborative platforms, communities can continue to lead on mental health training and agency over their healing process.




    While forced displacement has occurred throughout history, only recently have scientists has the means, tools and imperative to explore the impact of these phenomena on the brain and body. The new emergence of brain sciences means our understanding of the effects of forced displacement on our neurological and physiological systems is constantly growing.


    Evidence from human biology and neuroscience suggest that experiences of forced displacement impact if and how the brain generates new cells and neurons. These experiences can affect the ease of forming new neural pathways, the literal size and shape of the brain responsible for threat perception, and the organisation of memories. They can affect what we fear, how we react to fear, and how we operate with anxiety and anticipation to the world around us. Beyond the individual, they can affect the DNA and mental health trajectories of subsequent generations.


    Environments of peace and stability, versus violence and conflict, or climate change and scarcity therefore deeply affect our brains and bodies, in ways unique to each individual.


    Insights from neuroscience play an important role as we design new interventions,
    bridge across disciplines, and seek to ensure agency in those affected by forced displacement. Our research therefore cuts across a wide range of issues, including neuroscience and neurobiology, investigating and interrogating insights from the brain sciences and exploring how these insights can inform MHPSS programming, how the neuropsychology of trauma is related to mental health outcomes, and how brain science can transform how we pursue community development, psychosocial support, and resilience.



    Our work has four pillars:


    Pillar 1: Communication


    We organise meetings and talks to facilitate learning, increase capacity for training, and knowledge-sharing between practitioners, civil society and experts. This includes sharing existing resources and designing tailored reports, guides and toolkits to meet specific needs on strategy and development in the field.


    Pillar 2: Connections


    Based on IASC's 4W's principles, we connect partners and identify current work based on Who, What, Where and When of MHPSS in displacement. Through our working groups and public engagement we encourage practitioners to connect and collaborate with organsations and researchers with the aim to integrate practices and latest scientific understanding in the field of mind-body-brain health and creative healing.


    Pillar 3: Coordination


    Our working groups of experts support brainstorming, planning and strategy on key emerging issues and methods to approach quantitative and qualitative support for creative mental therapies. Coordination will also help to identify mental health gaps and inequalities in the provision of care that will further help target capacity building and training. We build on IASC's 4W's principles to address the How and Why of organisations and practitioners work - i.e how their programmes works in the particular contexts that they operate in and the factors that illustrate positive impact. In this way, we challenge our partners to ensure their practices are working and delivering sustainable impact.


    Pillar 4: Collaboration


    Partners co-lead workshops, training and public engagement events to widen mental health literacy between displaced communities and host communities, and equip them with the tools and knowledge to respond holistically to preventative and responsive actions in mental health and well-being programmes; these objectives are strongly supported in resilience-building through community inclusion, social and educational skills learning, and job integration. Through these collaborations, we aim to introduce innovative and creative approaches to mental health that put displaced people at the centre of change and leadership in this field.







  • Between Borders' team is made up of practitioners whose background crosses various fields, including international law, humanitarian practice, neuroscience, journalism, and theatre.


    The team is based primarily in London as well as Lebanon, Boston, and Amman.

  • TEAM

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    Vanessa Thevathasan



    Before setting up Between Borders, Vanessa was a freelance journalist and researcher working with a range of media, community and non-profit organisations on armed violence reduction, Disaster Risk Reduction, peacebuilding, sustainable development, and human insecurity.


    She founded the Mental Health and Forced Displacement Consortium - a network of global partners working on mental health and displacement to facilitate bigger and more consistent collaboration between partners in the field. The Consortium is managed by Between Borders.


    Vanessa has a background in Law (LLB, SOAS) and International Relations (BA, Cambridge). She is on the board of Grassroot Diplomat.




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    Mike Niconchuk



    Michael (Mike) Niconchuk has spent 7 years learning from post-conflict and displaced communities in Latin America and the Middle East, and has worked extensively with young people at risk of violence and conflict with the law. For three years, after the start of the Syrian conflict, Mike worked as an Emergency Response Coordinator in Za'atri Refugee Camp in Jordan, leading to various projects for violence reduction, youth leadership, and alternative education. Since then, Mike has worked with Syrian refugees across various stages of their migration journey - from Greece, to Germany, to Canada, and the United States - conducting research on the links between forced displacement, trauma, social cognition, decision-making, and social behaviour. Now, Mike works with various organisations leveraging insights from brain science to design and improving approaches to refugee inclusion, youth participation, and violence prevention. In 2016, Mike was named an Innovation Fellow at Beyond Conflict, where he continues to develop his research on the psychology and neurobiology of displacement, violence and marginalisation.


    Mike holds degrees from Tufts University and University College London, where he was also a Fulbright Scholar.

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    Al-Rahim Moosa



    Al-Rahim Moosa has worked for the past five years with Focus Humanitarian Assistance, an affilitate of the Aga Khan Development Network. He has conducted research on the resettlement of Afghan refugees to Canada, including best practices and lessons learnt on the importance of pre-departure orientation in host countries, reconciling cultural differences between home countries and countries of resettlement, and the importance of religious centers as a means to facilitate cultural integration of resettled persons. In 2015, he designed and implemented a programme to support the Government of Canada's resettlement of Syrian refugees from Lebanon to Canada (based out of Beirut), and most recently has been providing technical and coordination support on emergency management to community-based civil society institutions in Syria. His areas of interest lie in the safe and secure passage of IDPs and refugees out of conflict areas, and mental health conditions arising from witnessing and escaping hazardous conditions.

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    Sarhang Hars



    Sarhang Hars started his professional media career as a co-founder and editor of the first independent youth-oriented Kurdish newspaper, 'Liberal Education,' in 2002. He has worked as a media development advisor and London-based Senior International Correspondent at NRT satellite channel. He has extensively covered the migration and refugee issues and stories throughout Europe.

    Sarhang was a speaker at TEDx Baghdad in 2013 to talk about his innovation to monitor the status of women in Iraqi media and was awarded the first prize at Hurilab competition for creating Amedia Watch.


    Sarhang holds an MA in Communications and Media studies from the Univerity of London and a BA in International Development Studies from the University of Toronto.

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    Arabella Lawson



    Arabella Lawson has a background in languages, and a passion for theatre.


    Since 2014, supported by Funacion Promocion Social de la Cultura (FPSC), Arabella has been working in collaboration with a group of community volunteers in Za'atari camp (Jordan), setting up and running the community-led inclusive theatre group of children of abilities, Mark of Hope theatre troupe, which works to combat the isolation and marginalisation of persons labelled with disabilities, Mark of Hope celebrates the diversity of its members. It performs stories, be they stories with a message or not, with colour, joy and fun, and the group has become a place where boys and girls are welcomed into an atmosphere of inclusion, cooperation, friendship and a lot of laughter. As the group is led to an ever greater extent by the young men and women of the community itself, Arabella has witnessed the enormous value of creative ownership.


    Still in Jordan, Arabella is a member of Jordan's playback theatre troupe and continues to support Mark of Hope and Theatro di Nascosto.

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    Roseanne Frascona



    Using the arts to express a political message is vital and his how Roseanne first came to develop her work. She has spent the last few years engaging with socio-political theatre: with AVA, on the film 'Our Girl' - which used real testimonies of girls who had been forced into marriage and The Bush Theatre on 'Nahda: Four Visions of an Arab Awakening', which asked: how can personal freedom and identity be conquered under the pressure of conflicting forces. Coming into contact with stories and realities has brought home to Roseanne, on a visceral level, both the need to engage with the issue of displacement and the impact that it can have on a person's mental well-being. She feels fervently that the arts can be used to tell these important stories and it can play a crucial role in initiating change.