Syrian refugees 'traumatised' by years of conflict

It's clear thousands of Syrians fleeing conflict and violence in their home country are in need of more than practical help, says Tearfund's Justine Nola.

Published 06 March 2014  |  
AP
Syrian women who fled their homes start a fire next to their tents at a camp for displaced Syrians, in the village of Atmeh, Syria

Tearfund has warned that thousands of Syrian refugees are not only suffering from a lack of immediate necessities such as food, clean water and adequate shelter, but are also dealing with huge psychological trauma which will have long-lasting effects.

More than 2.5 million people have fled Syria to escape escalating violence in the region since the outbreak of civil war in March 2011. Millions more have been displaced, and latest estimates from the UN Refugee Agency suggest that a staggering 9.5 million people are in need of aid while 100,000, including 11,000 children, have been killed as a result of the conflict.

Tearfund is working with local organisations and churches in neighbouring Lebanon and Jordan to help provide basic and immediate needs, and is also running programmes to help victims deal with the psychological effects of war.

Justine Nola, Tearfund's Disaster Response Manager on the ground in Jordan, says thousands of refugees have been utterly "traumatised" by their experiences over the past few years.

"It's clear that they don't just need physical help," she notes.

Courses are being offered to women like Ghadar, a 37-year-old Syrian who fled to Jordan with her six children and husband almost a year ago. She has been taught ways of coping with grief and anger, and of maintaining a strong family bond despite terrible circumstances.

"When I came to Jordan, I was under a lot of stress and my children never saw me smile. That caused a lot of problems," she explains.

"Attending the sessions, I started learning something new. I started smiling and treating my children in a different way. That helped a lot. I had lost my hope of how to be a good mother. But after the sessions, things got better. I told my sisters to go and attend the sessions immediately, and all the ladies around me."

It's an incredible story of transformation, but Justine says that although aid agencies are doing all they can to help, the situation as a whole is worsening.

"The pressure on neighbouring countries is just enormous. It's not just a crisis for Syria but for the whole region," she says.

"It's an ever accumulating situation here in terms of numbers. 1.2 million of the refugees across the region are children, and many large families coming over the border don't even have the basics; they have only whatever they could carry on their backs.

"Eighty-four per cent of refugees are outside of the UN camp structures, and there's an ongoing continuous search for water and food, as well as things like access to children's education."

Unfortunately, the statistics just get more bleak as Tearfund says that of the amount that the UN requires for its response, only 13 per cent has been gathered.

"This is the biggest humanitarian crisis in decades globally, but also very severely underfunded," says Justine.

Tearfund is working to ensure that longer-term issues are also addressed, however.

"Tearfund is very clear in our strategy that we understand the short-term needs, but the long-term needs are no less important, though they sometimes get overshadowed," Justine explains, naming such issues as education, trauma care and psycho-social support.

"With this crisis coming up to its three year mark, refugee children have been out of the education system for several months, coming up to two years for some of them, and within Syria itself parents are not sending their children to school either.

"It's becoming a recognised need now that we need to offer these children a hope and future through education. Tearfund is supporting a number of initiatives to help provide that."

Another Christian charity, Embrace the Middle East, has voiced a particular concern for Syrian children who have been caught up in the crisis. As families flee their homeland, host communities are struggling to cope with the influx of new children and are becoming overburdened.

Thousands of children have been forced into the work force, with some as young as five taking on low-paid jobs to help support their families. UNICEF reports that the education system is experiencing "the sharpest and most rapid decline in the history of the region".

"They are part of Syria's 'lost generation', forced to abandon their education inside Syria because of the country's catastrophic civil war," CEO Jeremy Moodey explains.

Embrace the Middle East is working to establish schools for refugee children who have fled to Lebanon. "There is hope for Syria's lost generation, but only if we act now," Jeremy says.

Justine is urging the international community to hold the Syrian people up in prayer, while also praying for practical demands to be met.

"There are urgent needs within Syria itself, we need prayer for access to hard-to-reach communities," she says.

"But one of the things that I have been really struck by is the Syrian resilience.

"They've got such an incredible spirit about them - they are surrounding themselves with family and neighbours, and from that comes a strength - but how long until they lose that?

"I'm really passionate, and Tearfund is really passionate, about how we can foster and nurture that spirit until they can go back home.

"They're ready now to go back home, so please pray for God's hand in being able to find a practical and long-term peaceful resolution to the conflict.

"Working alongside our partners we hear story after story of suffering. But what amazes me is the resilient spirit of the Syrian people and their enduring hope that they will go home one day. Please pray with us that this day comes soon." 

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