WASHINGTON – The massive influx of Syrian migrants to the West presents many challenges, but little has been said about the impact on already stretched public mental-health resources, according to a report Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin.
For the U.S., the migrants, especially the children, will bring with them the psychological scars of almost six years of war. Already, the U.S. system has been overwhelmed by troops with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, from some 15 years of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and citizens taxed by U.S. economic conditions.
Some 12 million Syrians, with half being children, have fled their homes, with many ending up in Jordan, Turkey and Europe, and many thousands slated to come to the U.S.
Experts on the mounting problem say the U.S. mental health system isn’t prepared.
“If one looks at what has happened with returning veterans, from Vietnam to Iraq, and those who have experienced similar horrors, I guess [Syrian migrants] will require mental health care – intensely,” said Franklin Lamb, an international lawyer based in Beirut, told G2 Bulletin.
“Many children in Syria, and elsewhere around here, have witnessed the most horrific devastation right in front of them of their homes, schools, neighborhood, friends and family members being blown to oblivion with body parts and blood spread widely,” Lamb said.
“So, I imagine [the U.S. and the European Union] will try to do something, but also some of our countrymen and Europeans will politicize the issue claiming, ‘We can’t handle any more immigrants with problems! Send them back to where they came from,’” he said.
Feeding the children
Lamb himself has set aside his normal work to focus on helping feed refugee children in Beirut, arranging for hundreds of them to receive one nutritious meal daily.
He told G2 Bulletin that he started the effort after watching a Syrian woman attempt to sell four very young children on a street in Beirut.
After initially undertaking the effort alone, Lamb quickly received help from Lebanese citizens and now has the help of the nutrition department at the American University of Beirut, along with a number of European volunteers.
“I never cease to marvel, Michael,” Lamb told G2 Bulletin in an email, “at the resilience of children – on the surface at least – being youngsters, those who have witnessed worse than Hell.
“Most of their bodies are healing – countless others have died from the physical wounds and the lack of health care,” Lamb said. “In Lebanon, for example, it’s too expensive for most Syrian refugees, and in Syria, [mental health assistance] now often is hard to come by or to go to.”
What Lamb is witnessing on a daily basis on the streets of Beirut is backed up by a recent report from the Brookings Institution that projects more refugees and casualties as civilians flee the violence after almost six years of war.
“With its aerial bombs, car bombs, chemical warfare, the unparalleled brutality of Islamic State and unrelenting trauma of urban warfare, Syria’s war has been half a million deaths, over four million refugees, and some seven million internally displaced peoples,” the Brookings report said.
“Unsurprisingly, mental trauma affects large numbers of Syrians, whether forcibly displaced, or not.”