Syrian children reluctant to return to homeland

By January 3, 2019

Syria (MNN) – The UNHCR recently reported that up to 250,000 Syrian refugees are expected to return to their home country in 2019.

Returning to Syria

About 37,000 already returned in 2018 and in 2017, and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported more than 600,000 Syrian refugees returned in the first seven months of that year.

According to the IOM report in 2017, 97 percent of people returned to their own homes that year. According to the recent report by the UNHCR, refugees are mainly traveling to the governorates of Deraa, Damascus, and Homs.

Reuters reports that there are still obstacles in refugees’ way, including documentation, property, and threats against those who deserted the army. There is also a great need to demine certain areas.

The war has generally settled in many parts of Syria, though the battle still rages in the north of the country.

As families feel safer and more confident, they are returning. But not everyone is ready to return.

Reluctance of Children

“We are starting to see them slowly, slowly, they’re feeling more and more safe, but the kids especially are not feeling the safety because they don’t know,” Triumphant Mercy International’s Kelsey says.

“You can’t logically explain things to a four-year-old who two years ago remembers waking up in the middle of the night to a huge sound and mom and dad rushing them away.”

Trauma has marred adults and children who have fled the Syrian crises. According to a 2018 report by The Conversation, 45 percent of refugee children suffer from PTSD.

Many have started abusing drugs and alcohol and depression is very high among them. Suicide and self-harm rates have also risen.

Organizations have held trauma counseling in order to help heal adults and children.

“Throughout the whole thing, there has been NGOs who have been inputting into and people that NGOs like Triumphant Mercy can refer kids to, especially kids who have extreme cases,” Kelsey says.

Now, as extreme cases have been addressed, Kelsey says there is evidence of trauma among children, including misbehavior in classes and not being able to control themselves.

Healing before Returning

Right now, Triumphant Mercy’s aim is to help kids heal by the time they return to their home country and learn how they can process through trauma.

“We’re realizing we have to send them back whole and healthy because we can send them back educated, but if they can’t be whole, healthy human beings, they can’t create a good, healthy community,” Kelsey says.

In fact, there are concerns that if children do not heal emotionally, it may lead to a new path of terrorism as they try to fill the void of pain.

In Triumphant Mercy classrooms, teachers are demonstrating to children how they can be open and share about how they feel.

“The first thing we start with is just talking about emotions especially within Middle Eastern, Syrian culture, emotion isn’t really explained by parents. It’s not really emphasized. In fact, it’s actually overlooked and often, parenting is through shame because of the … honor shame culture. Often, we’ll find kids who just don’t know how to express it.”

Kelsey says during a class, she asked a male translator to share about a time he was afraid. Before he could start, a boy kept insisting that men are not afraid.

“There is this expectation on them to put on the front of, ‘we can do it. We’re going to make it happen. We’re not afraid. We’re just going to go.’”

Yet, after fleeing the terror of violence in their home country and finding safety, children are once again faced with the fear of returning.

(Photo courtesy of Triumphant Mercy International)

Kelsey says two kids from a class are preparing to return to Syria, but the children do not want to return.

“They were afraid because when they left, this family specifically, we knew they left because bombs were being dropped on the home next to theirs.”

Healing in Prayer

The process of healing and sharing emotions is important for children so they know how to deal with trauma as they return.

Triumphant Mercy workers have been directing children to prayer to heal.

“Primarily, you let the kids drive the conversation a bit, let them answer the questions, let them ask the questions and then you separate yourself as an individual. ‘When I feel uncomfortable, when I’m afraid, I will pray to God.’”

As families return, pray for safety and complete healing.

Also, pray for Triumphant Mercy as they shift their focus of work to be more Syria-based. Support their work financially here.



Header photo courtesy of Triumphant Mercy International.

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