x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

UAE volunteers tackle psychological pain of those who fled Syria

The Emirati-Jordanian Field Hospital in Mafraq, which has cared for up to 600 patients a day since it opened on August 28, has treated many refugees suffering severe psychological trauma.

Syrian refugees are given medical and psychiatric treatment in the Emirati-Jordanian Field Hospital in Mafraq.
Syrian refugees are given medical and psychiatric treatment in the Emirati-Jordanian Field Hospital in Mafraq.

MAFRAQ, JORDAN // It was not a sniper's bullet that killed Saleh, 16, who managed to escape the bloodshed in Syria with his five sisters to a Jordanian refugee camp just across the border.

It was the stress and the psychological wounds of civil war that led to the boy's stroke.

One of the many Emirati volunteers sent by the UAE learnt yesterday that the boy died at one of the camps just a few days earlier. Now Saleh's sisters have been left "alone in this world".

"Why did he die? It was psychological," said the volunteer, who wished not to be identified.

The Emirati-Jordanian Field Hospital in Mafraq, which has cared for up to 600 patients a day since it opened on August 28, has treated many refugees suffering severe psychological trauma, she said.

One girl she visited was still having extreme panic attacks six months after leaving the country.

"These cases are painful to see," the volunteer said. "Knowing how to deal with them is important to help them.

"If they are sad, no matter how much treatment you give them, they will never get better."

Some are depressed and have given up on hygiene and staying healthy. This is where the volunteers step in.

"Just by taking care of themselves they would feel better," she said. "They need to know how to start living again."

Telling families she looks forward to seeing them in Syria after the war in their country is over immediately lifts their spirits.

"Straight away they would smile," the volunteer said.

The hospital has a psychiatrist and a psychological support unit, but many refugees are convinced their situation is far more complex than any doctor could understand.

"My eight-year-old son would rather go back to Homs and die under the shelling, between snipers and in the mass panic everyone was in than to be here," said Umm Khalid, sitting on dirt outside one of the hospital tents yesterday.

"Every day he tells me why are we here, why we cannot we go back. He says he wants to go and die where his dad, who was in the Free Syrian Army, was killed."

Umm Khalid said she did not consider taking her son to the psychiatrist because she felt the same way he did.

"I want to go back to my country," she said. "The people of Jordan and the country have helped us a lot and we thank them, but it isn't like being in your country. In the end you are a refugee."

Doctors and volunteers who find a refugee suffering severe trauma send them to the clinic for a psychiatric evaluation.

But some cases brought tears to the volunteers' eyes, said Mariam Al Darmaki, a nurse from Sharjah with the UAE Red Crescent.

Many at the camp seemed to find it therapeutic to talk about their misery.

Ismail has been shot twice in the past six months. After his home in Hama was destroyed he was able to pay Syrian police to help himself, his wife and six children to escape to Jordan.

But one story haunts him - that of his 22-year-old nephew's death.

"He was killed," Ismail said in tears. "He went to a bakery to get bread at 3.30am and then the bakery was shelled. They found his body cut in half."

Ismail said he felt torn by sorrow and anger, even towards those in his family. "His father, my brother, did wrong to him," he said. "He married another and has another family and neglected him. I practically raised the boy."

The news of his nephew's death came four days before Eid, after Ismail had arrived in Jordan.

"I don't care if I die tomorrow, I am just heartbroken about my nephew," he said.

osalem@thenational.ae