Syrian Refugees - Youth Mental Health

PhotographerEd Kashi
PrizeHonorable Mention

Since Syria’s civil war began, over 2,000,000 people seeking sanctuary from the raging, destructive violence have fled to neighboring countries. Tragically, the expectation is that there are tens of thousands more Syrian refugees yet to come. With more than half of the refugee population under age 18, the psychological and emotional stability of Syria’s exiled youth is of particular concern. A generation, whose homeland once boasted a middle class economy with an over 90% school enrollment rate, has found itself displaced, humiliated, anxious and traumatized. Many of the Syrian refugees have attempted to integrate into existing border towns in both Jordan and northern Iraq. Challenged by deteriorating living conditions and frequently lacking access to running water or electricity, these urban refugees struggle daily to survive. Often forced to share living quarters with multiple families, the children, as one young refugee stated, feel “lost in a sea of people.” Meanwhile, others live in makeshift tent and trailer camps without life’s basic necessities. And while both Jordan and northern Iraq offer some semblance of safety to the displaced Syrians, the negative effects of proximity to Syria’s ongoing conflict do not afford much peace of mind. Unfortunately, this is especially true for the refugee children who have personally witnessed the shattering of their lives, families and homes. Less than a mile South of the Syrian border, a shantytown near Sabha, Jordan, presents a front-and-center view of tanks crawling the horizon, military maneuvers and bomb-laden planes flying overhead. About an hour’s drive from Sabha, Za’atari has become the second-largest refugee camp in the world. Bereft of resources and education, young refugees wander the filthy, dusty, often brutal streets of overcrowded camps, attempting to envision a future beyond the tents and the mind-numbing task of enduring the next day’s challenge to survive. Since Iraq’s Peshkhabour crossing reopened in August 2013, more than 55,000 Syrians have headed east across the border into northern Iraq. At the Arbat refugee camp, Iraqi Kurdish students from the Classical School of Medes in Sulaimaniya have provided Syrian refugee children with essential school supplies. In addition to the young helping the young, agencies like the International Rescue Committee have provided supplies and helped newly arrived refugees to register and receive camp services in both Arbat and Domiz, the region’s largest Syrian refugee camp. And while a return to school, clean drinking water and emergency kits containing basic necessities of everyday life offer some glimmers of hope, the mental anguish of children separated from their families when they fled Syria is difficult to treat; especially with an overall lack of funding for refugee aid in northern Iraq. These images, along with a 15-minute video, are part of a multi-platform project about this potentially lost generation and the families and caregivers who are coping with this mental health challenge in communities and refugee camps just past Syria’s fringes. My goal was to create a powerful reportage revealing what is happening in the difficult, uncertain lives of those in exile, particularly the Syrian youth.