There Is Now A Psychological Condition For The Extreme Trauma Syrian Children Face: Human Devastation Syndrome

by Christine Organ
Originally Published: 

For the past several months — years, even — we’ve been hearing about the dire situation in Syria. Millions of people are fleeing the country to escape the horrors of war, and countless others are trapped in the midst of the fighting. We’ve seen the pictures, and we’ve heard the stories.

But I’ll be honest, I have a hard time taking it all in. I have a hard time understanding the scope of the devastation. I have a hard time imagining how desperate and scared these people must feel, and the trauma to which these children have been exposed.

I have a hard time understanding it all because the situation is so devastating that it simply boggles the mind. The tragedies are endless, and the horrors are incomprehensible.

In fact, the trauma Syrian children are suffering from is so extreme that a neuropsychologist working with the Syrian-American Medical Society (SAMS) to treat patients in Syria has coined a new term for the psychological condition: human devastation syndrome.

“We have talked to so many children, and their devastation is above and beyond what even soldiers are able to see in the war,” Dr. M.K. Hamza, a neuropsychologist with the Syrian-American Medical Society (SAMS), told ATTN:. “They have seen dismantled human beings that used to be their parents, or their siblings. A lot of them have physical impairments. Amputations. Severe injuries. And they’ve made it to the refugee camp somehow.”

Dr. Hamza chairs the mental health subcommittee of SAMS, a nonprofit, non-political, educational, and humanitarian organization established by Syrian-American doctors in 1998 that represents thousands of health care professionals in the United States and around the world. Among other things, SAMS organizes and facilitates medical missions to allow doctors and other health care volunteers to travel to areas of conflict to provide medical care to Syrians both inside the country and in refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, and Greece.

If you’re unfamiliar with the situation in Syrian, here’s a brief (albeit overly simplistic) overview: In 2011, several school children were arrested (and reportedly tortured) for writing anti-government graffiti on a wall. Protests erupted as a result, and the government, led by President Bashar al-Assad, opened fire on the protesters, killing four people immediately, and then shooting at mourners the following day. The violence escalated, and a state of civil war was officially declared in 2012. For the past several years, the war has waged on between the Syrian government and the opposition — which includes rebel fighters, political parties opposed to Assad, and those living in exile — and the situation escalated even more when ISIS began taking over large areas of the country.

There are currently about 4.9 million Syrians who are refugees and 6.1 million are displaced within Syria, and half of those affected are children.

Further complicating the situation is the fact that hospitals are often under siege. Hamza told ATTN: that almost every hospital SAMS supports in Syria has been attacked, most of the time by airstrikes carried out by the regime or a Russian ally, and just working in the same area as some of these hostile groups — even if it is to provide medical care to the victims of the regime — can result in the assumption that a person is an ally of the regime.

Given the dire situation in Syria, it is inhumane and downright heartless that the current administration wants to block all Syrian refugees from coming into the U.S. indefinitely. In January, the President signed an executive order suspending the entire U.S. refugee program for 120 days and the Syrian refugee program indefinitely, as well as banning legal immigrants from seven specific (largely Muslim) countries. Fortunately, the executive order was declared unconstitutional by a federal judge in Washington and that decision was upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, but the president has indicated that he expects to sign a new executive order with similar restrictions in upcoming days.

Regardless of your political leanings and feelings about the 45th president, I find it utterly unconscionable that anyone would support blocking Syrian refugees from coming into our country. These are people fleeing the terror of their war-torn country and seeking safe refuge. They undergo a stringent vetting process before arriving in the U.S., which includes multiple applications, interviews, biometric tests, medical screenings, and cultural training sessions with various federal agencies.

Contrary to what the fear-mongers would have you believe, Syrian refugees are not a danger. In fact, most Syrian refugees considered for admission to the U.S. are women and children, and those men who are considered for refugee admission are usually with families. In the past seven years, nearly 3,000 Syrian refugees have been admitted to the U.S. and none have been arrested or removed on terrorism charges.

What kind of person denies safety to someone in such desperate need of help? How could someone look an innocent child in the eye — someone who’s only “fault” was being born in the wrong place at the wrong time — and turn them away? How could you look in the face of a mother or father, desperately trying to keep their children safe, and say, “Nope, not here”?

As they say, there but for the grace of God go we all. This could be us. These could be our families. These could be our children who are literally dying in the streets.

How can we turn them away? How can we stand by and do nothing?

Well, I, for one, can’t stand by and do nothing. If you don’t want to stand by and do nothing either, while these innocent children experience the worst of the worst, here are a few things you can do help.

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