It is now three long years since three-year-old Alan Kurdi drowned in the Mediterranean – just one victim of many in the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis, but the image of his little body made headlines around the world. Alan died alongside his mother and older brother; his father was the only family member who survived the tragedy of their boat capsizing as they made the dangerous crossing to Europe. 5.6 million Syrians have so far fled the country in fear of their lives.
The photograph of Alan has come to define the refugee crisis, and it drove a sharp uptake in donate to charities helping refugees, but the momentum has died down for fundraisers and there are still hundreds of thousands of Syrian citizens left in refugee camps. From Jordan to Lebanon and Greece to Turkey, they wait and wait and wait; some 80,000 people are crammed into in Jordan’s Za’atari camp and cannot leave without a permit. Unfortunately, people smugglers can still do a lucrative trade, as desperation is so high after seven and a half years of conflict (see CNN’s Syrian civil war timeline for details).
It’s easy for us to remark on the ongoing crisis from our comfy homes and from behind our screens on social media, and to say something should be done, but it is far harder to improve the situation. Society has become driven by virtue-signalling – appearing charitable or caring to the outside world, without taking any concrete action such as donating time or money to the cause. We can get caught up in movements like the Ice Bucket Challenge (for Motor Neurone Disease awareness) then quickly move onto the next public stunt or social media post.
The UK has so far accepted 10,000 Syrian refugees, and will accept 10,000 more by 2020. At Christine Tizzard Psychology we actively offer psychological support to refugee children; they will have witnessed scenes no child should ever see, and they are processing the trauma of being separated from their home, friends and country. Many will have lost family members in Syria or on the journey to safety, and younger children won’t remember a time before the war.
It’s crucial these children have psychological interventions once they arrive here and begin to cope with life thousands of miles from home: a new environment, learning or improving English, going to school, making friends, adjusting to the similarities and differences between their new home and the one they left behind.
The whole process will stir up a range of emotions, from anger to anxiety, and no child adjusts overnight. However, with the right support, these children can flourish and their distress will diminish over time, especially if their new community is welcoming and they have a support network around them. Just look at 19-year-old refugee Muzoon Almellehan, who fled Syria in 2013 and started a new life in Newcastle two years later. She is now UNICEF’s youngest ever goodwill ambassador, honouring her campaigns to give refugee children an education.
What Can You Do to Help Syrian Refugees?
- Support a charity to improve their living conditions – Help Refugees, War Child and Unicef are just some of the charities actively involved on the ground.
- Get involved in Cities of Sanctuary, a website that lists local groups welcoming refugees in different ways, such as involving them in community gardens, joining a mentoring project, or leading arts activities.
- Lobby your local council or MP to do more for refugees nearby.
- Refugee Action has many more ideas for dynamic ways to help.
However you choose to help, even if your action feels small, it goes some way to helping people who have been through unimaginable trauma.
Written by guest contributor Polly Allen for Dr Chrissie Tizzard, Chartered Consultant Psychologist, PsychD, BSc, MSc, C.Psychol, C.Sci, AFBPS. Dr Tizzard is the Clinical Director of Christine Tizzard Psychology (ctpsy.co.uk).