Serap Ozer is an associate professor of psychology at Turkey’s Bahcesehir University. Selcuk R. Sirin is an associate of psychology at New York University.
We have seen the aftermath of enough civil wars to know this about refugees: providing food and shelter is not enough. The cycle of civil wars is violence, displacement, resentment, aggression and more violence.
The best way to deal with the refugee crisis in Syria is to break that cycle by educating the children and providing care for those traumatized by the violence.
The best way to deal with the growing refugee crisis in Syria is to break that cycle. This starts with educating children and providing health care for those who are traumatized by the violence.
As our recent field study on Syrian refugees shows, the children of Syria have been exposed to too many violent and traumatic acts and because of this, they are growing up with feelings of mistrust, betrayal and anger. These children and their families need more than shelter, they need a sense of belonging in their new environment. To achieve this, they need education, health care and mental health services too.
We recognize that what we propose is costly and it cannot be provided by the regional governments alone. It require the international community to act and make a clear statement that they are for and with the “people of Syria,” and not willing to take a side in the conflict.
Unfortunately the record of the international community is full of lost opportunities. Places like Afghanistan or Rwanda should remind us what happens when refugees are left to their own devices: camps, full of people who feel forgotten and, therefore, hopeless and angry, becomes recruitment grounds for child soldiers. This cycle carries the civil unrest across generations.
Syria is not like Rwanda or Afghanistan yet, partly because the countries in the region are containing the crisis. In fact, refugees in our study rated the health services they received in Turkey very highly. But this encouraging news comes with a price tag that is not sustainable in the long term as increased number of refugees arrive for extended periods of stay.
The international community has a decision to make in the Syrian refugee crisis. We can choose to ignore the issue as a regional conflict, or take a meaningful stand for peace and break the cycle of violence if we view refugee camps as places of healing for the most vulnerable.