Report reveals scale of mental health crisis among Syrian refugees

Report reveals scale of mental health crisis among Syrian refugees
Nearly 12 million Syrians are either refugees or internally displaced — more than half of the pre-war population. (Reuters/File)
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Updated 01 March 2021

Report reveals scale of mental health crisis among Syrian refugees

Report reveals scale of mental health crisis among Syrian refugees
  • 84% of those surveyed reported experiencing multiple symptoms of PTSD
  • ‘It’s very easy to see the need to fix the tangible damage … but we also need to fix the damage we can’t see,’ expert tells Arab News

LONDON: More than three-quarters of Syrian refugees may be suffering from serious mental health problems caused by their country’s 10-year conflict, according to a new report.

UK charity Syria Relief surveyed hundreds of refugees living in Lebanon, Turkey and Syria’s Idlib province, and found that 84 percent of people had at least seven out of 15 key symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

People suffering from PTSD, which is usually caused by witnessing or experiencing traumatic events, experience a range of symptoms including panic attacks and anxiety, and it often comes hand in hand with other mental health problems such as depression.

Despite the sky-high rates of PTSD, Syria Relief said accessing professional medical help is difficult, if not impossible, for many refugees.

Only 15 percent of refugees in Lebanon believe there is some mental health support available, and for internally displaced Syrians in Idlib that figure drops to just 1 percent.

One respondent to the survey, Ahmed, was hit by a government airstrike and trapped inside a destroyed building for 12 hours before being rescued.

“We could only see dust and darkness. We remained trapped under the rubble, in the cold for 12 hours until the Syrian Civil Defence (the White Helmets) freed us,” he said.

“What we saw, it cannot be described. The sound of aircrafts was so terrifying. I am, and I always will be, so scared of that sound, even after a hundred years. My fear has become my obsession,” he added.

“Whilst I received medical help, psychologically no one has taken care of me. I don’t even know if there is any mental health support for people like me, or even for people in a worse mental health condition than me.”

Charles Lawley, the report’s author and head of communications at Syria Relief, told Arab News: “There needs to be a change of attitudes toward mental health. It’s very easy to see the need to fix the tangible damage — broken buildings and bodies — but we also need to fix the damage we can’t see.”

He and the team at Syria Relief have urged the international community to “ensure there is funding to meet the psychosocial needs that are bound to result from people becoming victims of conflict and disaster.”

There is a danger that the mental health effects of the conflict on the millions of Syrian refugees could outlast the war itself, Lawley said. 

“One woman I spoke to witnessed her husband being killed in an airstrike on their home, and four months later lost two of her three children in another airstrike. This was six years ago. How is anyone ever going to come to terms with that without the help of a mental health professional?” he added.

“Some of the people I speak to haven’t been inside Syria or an active conflict zone for five, seven, even 10 years, but the symptoms of the trauma from their experiences aren’t healing.”

Nearly 12 million Syrians are either refugees or internally displaced — more than half of the pre-war population.

The conflict began in 2011 when a pro-democracy protest movement was met with brutal force by the Assad regime.


Syria loses chemical weapons watchdog voting rights after poison gas findings

Syria loses chemical weapons watchdog voting rights after poison gas findings
Updated 21 April 2021

Syria loses chemical weapons watchdog voting rights after poison gas findings

Syria loses chemical weapons watchdog voting rights after poison gas findings
AMSTERDAM: Syria on Wednesday was stripped of its voting rights at the global chemical weapons watchdog by member states after its forces were found to have repeatedly used poison gas during the civil war.
A majority of nations voting at the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) supported a decision to immediately revoke Syria’s privileges at the agency.

Syrian President Assad to run for re-election in May — state media

Syrian President Assad to run for re-election in May — state media
Updated 21 April 2021

Syrian President Assad to run for re-election in May — state media

Syrian President Assad to run for re-election in May — state media

AMMAN: Syrian President Bashar Assad on Wednesday submitted documents to run for a third term in an election scheduled for May 26, parliament’s speaker said on state media.
Parliament announced the election on Sunday. Washington and the Syrian opposition have denounced it as a farce designed to cement Assad’s authoritarian rule.
Assad’s family and his Baath party have ruled Syria for five decades with the help of the security forces and the army, where his Alawite minority dominate.
This year is the 10th anniversary of a crackdown on pro-democracy protesters which triggered a civil war that has left much of Syria in ruins.
The multi-sided conflict has sucked in world powers, killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced millions more, but is now nearing its end with Assad, supported by Russian and Iranian allies, back in control of most of the country.
Candidates must have lived in Syria for the last 10 years, which prevents opposition figures in exile from standing.


Syria’s Idlib to get first batch of COVID-19 vaccines

Syria’s Idlib to get first batch of COVID-19 vaccines
Updated 21 April 2021

Syria’s Idlib to get first batch of COVID-19 vaccines

Syria’s Idlib to get first batch of COVID-19 vaccines
  • The delivery will be the first to Syria as part of the Covax program
  • 912,000 doses have been allocated to Syria for a first phase of vaccination

BAB AL-HAWA: A first batch of COVID-19 vaccine doses was expected to arrive Wednesday in war-torn northwestern Syria, where millions of people live in dire humanitarian conditions, a UN official said.

The 53,800 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine were dispatched to the rebel-dominated region as part of the Covax facility, which ensures the world’s poorest economies get access to jabs for free.

“Once the vaccines arrive, we are prepared to start vaccination to priority groups through our implementing partners,” said Mahmoud Daher, a senior official with the UN’s World Health Organization (WHO).

The delivery will be the first to Syria as part of the Covax program, which has already sent vaccine doses to more than 100 different territories worldwide.

The vaccine doses are intended for the extended northwestern Syrian region, which includes the jihadist-dominated Idlib enclave.

The first categories of people to be vaccinated in the coming days in the Idlib region will be medical personnel involved in the battle against the pandemic and first aid responders.

The next group will be people above the age of 60, followed by people from younger age groups with chronic diseases, said Daher, who is based in the Turkish city of Gaziantep.

Much of the Idlib enclave is controlled by Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham, a jihadist organization that includes ex-members of Syria’s former Al-Qaeda franchise.

Other regions of Syria will also receive vaccine doses through Covax, under which 92 countries are eligible.

Imad Zahran, a media officer for the Idlib region’s health department, told AFP that the vaccination campaign was expected to begin early next month and would last approximately three weeks.

According to the WHO, a separate 912,000 doses have been allocated to Syria for a first phase of vaccination in regime controlled and semi-autonomous Kurdish areas.

The aim is to vaccinate 20 percent of the population by year’s end.

Vaccination for health workers has started in government-controlled areas but not with doses received as part of the Covax program.

The official COVID-19 death toll in Syria is low compared to some other countries in the region but credible data collection across the conflict-ravaged country is almost impossible.

Syria’s war has killed more than 388,000 people since it started in 2011 with the repression of anti-government protests.


UAE receives Israeli envoy to Gulf states

UAE receives Israeli envoy to Gulf states
Updated 21 April 2021

UAE receives Israeli envoy to Gulf states

UAE receives Israeli envoy to Gulf states
  • Both sides discussed mutual cooperation in areas such as trade, investment and tourism
  • The two countries lead the COVID-19 vaccination rollout

RIYADH: The UAE received Zvi Heifetz, Israel’s special envoy to the GCC states, in Abu Dhabi as both countries reviewed the progress of their bilateral relations since signing a peace agreement last September.

Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, welcomed the Israeli official to explore further UAE-Israeli relations and mutual cooperation in areas such as trade, investment and tourism, state news agency WAM reported on Wednesday.

The two countries lead the COVID-19 vaccination rollout and during the meeting underlined the importance of accelerating efforts to ensure recovery from the crisis.

Last month, the UAE established a $10 billion fund to invest in strategic sectors in Israel that include energy, manufacturing and healthcare.

Since the signing of the Abraham Accords, both countries have established reciprocal diplomatic missions, launched direct flights and held several trade visits – with the UAE attracting over 50,000 Israeli tourists.


UAE mulls movement restrictions on residents without COVID-19 vaccines

UAE mulls movement restrictions on residents without COVID-19 vaccines
Updated 21 April 2021

UAE mulls movement restrictions on residents without COVID-19 vaccines

UAE mulls movement restrictions on residents without COVID-19 vaccines
  • The UAE reports 1,903 new coronavirus cases and three fatalities
  • Abu Dhabi earlier approved the use of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine

DUBAI: The UAE is considering imposing movement restrictions on individuals who remain hesitant to have themselves vaccinated against COVID-19, according to Dr. Saif Al-Dhaheri, spokesman for the National Emergency Crisis and Disasters Management Authority.

“The vaccine is our best means to recover and return to a normal life … Delaying or refraining from taking the vaccine poses a threat to the safety of society and puts all groups, especially those most vulnerable to infection, at risk,” Dr. Al-Dhaheri said in reports from local media.

“Strict measures are being considered to restrict the movement of unvaccinated individuals and to implement preventive measures, such as restricting entry to some places and having access to some services, to ensure the health and safety of everyone,” he added, as he urged residents aged 16 and above to get vaccinated.

The UAE reported 1,903 new coronavirus cases and three fatalities related to the highly transmissible disease overnight, amid the government’s continued inoculation program for citizens and residents.

The country’s COVID-19 caseload now stands at 500,860 while total fatality count is at 1,559, a report from state news agency WAM said.

Health officials said that 113,621 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in the past 24 hours, bringing the number of jabs given provided to 9,788,826 for a distribution rate of 98.97 doses per 100 people.

Abu Dhabi earlier approved the use of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the second COVID-19 shot to be made available in the emirate after beginning a mass campaign using the Sinopharm vaccine that was trialed in the country.

Pfizer obtained emergency approval in the UAE in December and Dubai rolled out the vaccine during that month.