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Barriers to mediation are the contextual elements that prevent a negotiation or dialogue from taking place or succeeding. To understand the barriers that occur, one must understand the context and the setting, the community.

Understanding Community

Community is a unified body of individuals, such as:

  • The people with common interests living in a particular area broadly
  • a group of people with a common characteristic or interest living together within a larger society

Most Common Barriers and Challenges that Refugees and Migrants Face


  • If the native language of the migrant is different from the language of the host country, communication, both oral and written are difficult
  • Sometimes even with the same language there are cultural differences and different meanings
  • This influences every aspect of life


  • For some, keeping the family together is a challenge
  • For some raising children in a new, unfamiliar culture poses an obstacle
  • For some, starting a new family is the next natural step that could be delayed by their new situation.


  • Getting the sense of belonging is very important for normal social life and happiness
  • Being accepted into community, acquiring friends, becoming an equal member of the society is not easy, especially if there is a combination of other barriers


Housing, employment and settlement are all more difficult tasks for refugees and migrants

  • Can be influenced further by a mix of circumstances, for example, legal obstacles to work and to housing, differences in qualification, lack of connections and networking

EXAMPLE – Imagine

  • A family of migrants comes to a new community
  • There is a Migrant Community Mediator to welcome them
  • He/she works closely with the local community centre to organise their orientation day
  • The Mediator organises the orientation, allowing the family to meet representatives of their neighbourhood, school, community centre
  • The family experiences no resistance from the host community
  • The community seems to lack a negative perception regarding migrants
  • Everyone celebrates by singing: „Imagine all the people Livin’ life in peace” by John Lennon :)
  • This must be due to the Mediator’s work in FIGHTING THE NEGATIVE NARRATIVE AGAINST MIGRANTS

Barriers to mediation are the contextual elements that prevent a negotiation or dialogue from taking place or succeeding

Knowing barriers before the mediation takes place makes it possible to:

  • Better prepare oneself and the other parties to negotiate (maturity)
  • Adapt one’s mediation strategy before and during the discussion
  • Anticipate factors that could weaken the agreement once it is reached

Tactical or strategic barriers

When negotiation does not seem tactically or strategically the best option from the parties’ point of view

  • Dialogue = give up: This is when willingness to dialogue, gives the image of a “soft” negotiator. Power asymmetry: The more powerful think they’re going to win otherwise, the weaker ones think they’re not
  • No potential Area of Agreement: When parties feel strongly there is no room for the agreement, they will hardly engage in any mediation process
  • No “partner” is in a position (ability or willingness) to base an agreement or to implement it.

Psychological barriers

Psychological barriers are related to perceptions or emotions and demonstrate that negotiation is an “interactive social process”

  • Non-recognition of the other; discussions confer legitimacy
  • The fact that reaching an agreement is not always the most important thing:” it is my right”, a matter of justice, which is not negotiable.
  • Polarisation: in long conflicts, stereotypes can take over, with each side seeing the other as unrecoverable.
  • The dynamics of reciprocal escalation: with a hit, a hit returned, relative gains become paramount (I must earn more than you, whatever I win).


Let’s dig deeper into some of the most influential barriers

Psychological barriers are beliefs that a person has about himself/herself regarding his ability, potential, and self-worth. They can be called unhealthy or maybe incorrect thought patterns.

Social barriers are barriers to entry that are created by the culture of the community, i.e., people’s behaviour towards newcomers or others in general.

Socio-psychological Barriers

“The past is never where you think you left it.”                            

Katherine Anne Porter

The Reasons Behind the Socio-psychological Barriers

Intractable conflicts have an imprinting effect on individual and collective life in affected societies

Intractable conflicts have an imprinting effect on individual and collective life in affected societies

Intractable conflicts have an imprinting effect on individual and collective life in affected societies

Manifestation of the Psychological Barrier – have you heard of FREEZING?

The state of FREEZING is reflected in continuing reliance on widely held societal beliefs that support the conflict, reluctance to search for alternative information, and resistance to well-founded arguments that challenge these positions.

(Kruglanski, 2004;Kruglanski & Webster, 1996; Kunda, 1990).

Freezing contributes to barriers and is a form of barrier, experienced by the person with life experiences full of conflicts, such as war.

FREEZING: Examples

Someone might have deep beliefs rooted in ideology and experience (war for example) that certain people, cultures, and nationalities are not the ones they want to engage with, and that conflict resolution is impossible.

Persons from host communities might be subject to certain beliefs about new coming cultures. If they formed these beliefs based on any exposure to negative narratives from media or their surroundings, especially if they were subject to those kinds of narratives and influences for a long time.

Understand the context

“My Life as a Refugee” is a decision-making game that entertains and educates players, compelling them to wrestle with dilemmas faced by millions of refugees. The app features three stories whose characters are separated from their families while fleeing persecution or armed conflict.

Unfreezing: Creating the Motivation

Overcoming the psychological barriers that prevent a change

Re-evaluating the held beliefs and attitudes

Searching for new information and ideas

Accept the new alternatives

  • Barriers to intercultural mediation occur due to complex reasons.
  • The source of barriers can be in individuals, society, host communities, new communities and all together.
  • The most important step in overcoming barriers is mastering the skill of understanding the people and their circumstances.
  • Empathy is the most important skill for any peer-to-peer mediator!

Understanding empathy

Empathy is the ability to understand and share another person’s feelings and emotions. It is essential to building good relationships.

The research shows that empathy is partly innate and partly learned.

Walk in other’s shoes: Empathy

Challenge yourself

Undertake challenging experiences which push you outside your comfort zone, this teaches humility

Get out of your usual environment

Travel, especially to new places and cultures. It gives you a better appreciation for others.

Get feedback

Ask for feedback about your relationship skills from family, and friends. Check-in with them periodically to see how you’re doing.

Examine your biases

Don’t think you have any biases? Think again – we all do

Cultivate your sense of curiosity

Curious people ask lots of questions, leading them to develop a stronger understanding of the people around them

Some tangible examples of mediation

  • As a social/intercultural Mediator, the previously mentioned barriers are the fields in which your help would be very often needed
  • To help you can provide translation and accompany your peer migrants at the meetings, support them with phone calls, teach them the language
  • Find out about reliable childcare services, family supports
  • Help them make friends, introduce them to the members of your community
  • Point them towards up-to-date information and institutions about housing, job search and other areas they might need

Do you think you could face some of the before-mentioned barriers while performing these examples of mediation?

5 Further Challenges while doing Mediation Work

Overcome and BECOME!

  • The future Modules will train you and prepare you to overcome barriers and become the Intercultural Community Mediator, but here are some early hints:
  • Resources: plan well, make an action plan, prioritise well to best distribute available resources, find support, negotiate
  • Access to information: Research, network, volunteer, communicate, ask
  • Mutual trust: be impartial, do not let emotions overtake, plan, deliver, communicate, respect
  • Personal limits setting: Respect your time, it’s ok to say no, it’s ok to say I don’t know
  • Negative narrative about migrants is best challenged by the positive stories, start with your own positive example and be active