Abandoned and Unaccompanied Syrian Refugee Children are in Urgent Need of Help
The war in Syria led to a humanitarian catastrophe and the largest wave of migration since the WWII. The most vulnerable of the refugees are abandoned and unaccompanied children. It is estimated that nearly 1 million children were misplaced since the beginning of the crisis in 2011. Many of them lost their families and entire social support systems. Being exposed to violence, loss of the loved ones, and isolation, these children suffered a major psychological trauma and need help urgently.
As the war in Syria enters its fifth year, and the ongoing political discussion is yet to bring the solution. Meanwhile, Syria's humanitarian needs have increased dramatically since the beginning of the crisis. An estimated 12.2 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, including more than 5.6 million children. With 9.8 million people considered food insecure and many more living in poverty, entire communities are forced to leave their homes, making Syria's humanitarian catastrophe the largest wave of human displacement since the WWII.
The most insecure group of refugees is minors who lost their caregivers and travel unaccompanied. These vulnerable children are seeking shelter in both neighboring countries and in the Western Europe, primarily in Germany, Austria, and Sweden. Often traveling on their own, these kids are deprived of any adequate care, nutrition, and basic healthcare; it has strong and lasting impact on children's socio-emotional wellbeing, including their ability to integrate in new communities and find their place in life.
Loss of their loved ones, exposure to violence, displacement, and isolation are some of the contributing factors to the development of a post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, which is a severe stress-induced condition for any adult and a catastrophe for a child. PTSD symptoms include severe depression, panic attacks, feeling of guilt, grief, sleeping deprivations such as acute realistic nightmares, and a feeling of hopelessness. Without proper medical treatment and psychological support, PTSD significantly alters child’s ability to interact with others, making adaptation and learning extremely challenging, if not impossible. Long-term outcomes of an untreated PTSD might be anti-social behavior, anger outbursts, and aggressiveness, which significantly impact the quality of life and prevent today's refugee children from realizing their full potential. Potentially, it can forever deprive them of the basic right to live a happy and fulfilling life. An entire generation of Syrian people is a subject of a long-lasting psychosocial trauma.
Since the beginning of the unrest in 2011, SOS Children's Villages provided support to more than 88 thousand of vulnerable children in Syria, Lebanon and the neighboring countries. However, with the raise of migration to the Western Europe, SOS Children's Villages’ launched an emergency response programme providing shelter, nutrition and basic healthcare in the countries of refugee transit and their EU destinations.
Nicole Nassar, Managing Director of SOS Children’s Villages Gulf Area Office says: “The emergency response programme is primarily targeted at the most vulnerable of the refugees- abandoned and unaccompanied children. Our main objective right now is to provide them with safe child-friendly environment where they can find rest and security. These children experienced a severe trauma and they need an urgent psychological support, while we still can reduce the impact of the crisis”. “SOS Children’s Villages offices in Serbia, Macedonia, Hungary, Greece, Italy and Austria have mobilized their resources and accommodated hundreds of children. However, it is still of the utmost importance to help children who remain in their home countries and to deal with the source of the problem,» continues Nassar.
SOS Children’s Villages in Europe and in the Middle East provide safe family-like environment to abandoned and unaccompanied refugee children where they have an access to care, nutrition and psychological support. A family atmosphere helps to bring back an essential routine in order to reduce stress caused by uncertainty and to establish a degree of psychological comfort. After that, child psychologists involve kids in a complex of trauma relieving measures, such as art therapy, drawing memory books of the loved ones, journaling, counseling, and a cognitive-behavioral therapy.
“We are working to help children to live through difficult times, trying to minimize the consequences of a severe psychological trauma they have experienced. However, these measures provide only short-term relief. What we are really striving for is to reunite children with their families and make sure that they have a sustainable long-term care. Oftentimes, the closest relatives of these children are traumatized just as much and require psychological support too. In these cases, we provide the assistance to the caregivers and help them to restart the family. Every child has a right to grow in a safe loving home, and this is our ultimate goal at SOS Children’s Villages,” says Nicole Nassar.