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Violent Conflict and Mental Health Needs of Syrian Refugees in Jordanian Host Communities

Violent Conflict and Mental Health Needs of Syrian Refugees in Jordanian Host Communities

Begun in 2011, the war in Syria is an ongoing catastrophic, deleterious and traumatizing process. As a result of such turmoil in the political situation, Syrian people are forced to flee to other countries for safety and protection as refugees. The escape from the armed conflict and combats has affected and harmed the Syrians physically, psychologically, socially and economically, all jeopardizing their mental health, putting them at risk of becoming a traumatized entrapped nation.

Approximately 4.5 million Syrian refugees have escaped from the conflict and crossed the Syrian borders asking for protection in the surrounding countries of Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Egypt and recently Europe. 80,000 to 100,000 Syrian refugees have escaped to Zaatari in Jordan, now the second biggest refugee camp in the world. Approximately 1.4 million Syrian refugees reside in Jordanian host communities, which accounts for 20% of Jordan’s population.

Especially vulnerable within this already vulnerable refugee population are Syrian women, who have left their country, their homes and some or all of their families behind. They carry new titles as widows, orphans or bereaved mothers, forced to flee with what little but their children and the burden of uncertainty.

There is a growing understanding that part of women’s vulnerability in war, is their potential use as “weapons of war”. A reality substantiating their heightened risk of exposure to traumatic experiences and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) producing events such as sexual violence, human trafficking and prostitution.

Staff working with traumatized populations experience the horrors of war through their efforts to alleviate suffering. These “helpers” include professionals in medicine, mental health, lawyers and volunteers working with Syrian refugees in humanitarian organizations. There are few academic studies on the mental-health of Syrian refugees living in the host-communities of Jordan, and even fewer are written on the mental-health of professionals working with them. 

During 2014, the Mack Center on Mental Health and Social Conflict at UC Berkeley’s School of Social Welfare has conducted a study on the Syrian crisis in Jordan. The aim of this study was to learn about the psycho-social needs and mental-health of Syrian refugees, women and men in Jordanian host-communities and the staffers who provide services to refugees in humanitarian organizations in Jordan. It began with exploring the most basic concerns of food, water, safety, childcare, and other services most needed. It examined the impacts of these basic circumstances on issues of mental health – such as post-traumatic stress of refugees. The research has also sought to understand if the “helpers” exposure to refugees’ experiences – while working intensely to ease their sufferings – affects their mental-health causing vicarious/secondary traumatization or other damages and tried to detect their needs at work.

Currently (2016), the projects are in the stage of additional data analysis, interpretation and dissemination.        

Niveen Rizkalla is an international post-doctoral research scholar at University of California Berkeley. She works as a researcher (Co-PI) in the Mack Center on Mental Health and Social Conflict with Prof. Steven P. Segal (PI). Ms. Rizkalla holds a BA in Psychology and English Literature from Ben-Gurion University; BSW, MSW and PhD. in Social Work from Tel-Aviv University and a certificate in Couple and Family Therapy. Five years prior to her arrival at Berkeley, she was the volunteers’ coordinator in Haifa Rape Crisis Center and the director of the Mobile Clinic treating women in prostitution for the Haifa Ministry of Health. Her expertise lies in the study of women, sexual violence, PTSD, complex PTSD and women in prostitution.