CISR raises peer-support awareness in USCRI panel on Syrian refugee crisis
On Friday, May 23, CISR Trauma Rehabilitation Specialist Cameron Macauley participated in a concluding panel for the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI)’s annual National Network Conference. The panel, from 10:45 a.m. to 12:15 p.m., featured presentations from three experts on Syrian refugees: Macauley; Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) Senior Advisor for Government Relations and External Affairs Jana Mason; and National Geographic journalist and activist Aziz Abu Sarah (also a director at the Center for World Religions, Diplomacy, and Conflict Resolution at George Mason University). USCRI president Lavinia Limon facilitated the panel, which consisted of presentations and a 20-minute Q&A. Before introducing the panelists, Limon spoke of her visit to a camp in Jordan, stating, “I came away absolutely incensed at the terrible things these people had gone through and incensed at the national response. We’re living through a period where horror is happening … all while we’re at a conference.”
As the initial speaker, Mason provided an in-depth overview of the refugee situation in Syria to date. According to Mason, there are currently 2.8 million registered Syrian refugees, and UNHCR is prepared for 4 million before the end of the year. There is no end in sight to the conflict, and thus no foreseeable drop in refugee flow. In addition to these registered numbers, there are 6.5 million internally displaced persons (IDPs), totaling more than 9 million persons of concern. As a result, Syrian refugees and IDPs are UNHCR’s largest population of concern globally. UNHCR relief agencies and partners are forced to do vulnerability assessments when providing services. “You can only imagine how difficult it is making a vulnerability assessment when everybody is vulnerable,” Mason lamented. She also iterated several times that “this is a children’s refugee crisis.” Mason concluded, “we need development assistance now—not waiting until the crisis is over. These [host] countries need support in order to ensure that they do not close their borders to future refugees.”
In follow-up to Mason’s overview of the refugee crisis, Macauley provided an examination of psychological trauma in these refugees and how “refugees enter these camps with traumatic experiences, and then these camps provided additional layers of trauma.” When entering the camps, refugees may have post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses not currently being treated. Once there, refugees may not have access to services, or even if they do, “every aspect of socialization has been affected.” From Macauley’s research, he reports that many refugees do not feel safe even after reaching camps. The Syrian conflict has specifically seen an unparalleled amount and level of sexual violence, which Macauley explains that both sides use as a weapon. He then discusses the cultural barriers impeding healing and notes that “in a society where victims of violence are further victimized, women are forced to bury their experiences.” In order to help, Macauley has facilitated trainings on providing peer support in other countries, and CISR hopes to implement this in Iraq.
The last speaker, Abu Sarah, presented the results of an article he wrote for National Geographic: “Five Things I Learned in Syrian Refugees.” Abu Sarah covered five revelations:
- Many refugees are not counted.
- The host countries are in crisis.
- Children’s education is neglected.
- Many Syrian refugees are still in Syria.
- Refugee camps are like a prison.
Abu Sarah expounded upon each point and provided anecdotes from his experiences traveling to multiple camps and conducting interviews. In his presentation, he urged the conference audience to “listen to the stories, because sometimes the numbers can be overwhelming. When it gets that way, really go back and listen to the stories, because everybody has one, and it reminds us that these are more than numbers—they’re people.”
Lastly, the session featured a Q&A panel. Several questions for Macauley focused on the role and balance of psychological support, based on the tumultuous conditions. In response, Macauley emphasized the importance of peer support, which could be carried wherever peer mentors traveled, thus hopefully resulting in a larger impact.
James Madison University Class of 2015
Master of Public Administration
Intern at Center for International Stabilization and Recovery