Abstract: Adverse Impacts of War and Displacement on Syrian Refugee Children (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

528P Adverse Impacts of War and Displacement on Syrian Refugee Children

Saturday, January 18, 2020
Marquis BR Salon 6 (ML 2) (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Niveen Rizkalla, PhD, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA
Laila Soudi, MS, Stanford Refugee Research Project, Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA
Suher Adi, BA, Research assistant, University of California, Berkeley
Rahma Arafa, BA, Student, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, CA
Nour Mallat, Research assistant, University of California, Berkeley
Steven P. Segal, PhD, Professor, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA
Background and Purpose: The Syrian war has caused a mass displacement of citizens, most notably 1.9 million children, into neighboring countries. This study aimed to examine Syrian mothers’ accounts of the physical and mental health symptoms experienced by their children due to war exposure, their escape journey and displacement challenges in Jordan. The questions that the study explored were: (1) What have your children experienced during the war in Syria? (2) What have your children experienced during the escape journey from Syria to Jordan? (3) What are the challenges that your family is currently facing in Jordan? (4) How would you describe your children’s health? (5) Do you have any other concerns regarding your children’s feelings, behaviors, future?

Methods: Twenty-three open ended interviews were conducted in Arabic with Syrian refugee women, which lasted between 25-150 minutes. Inclusion criteria included women 19 years of age and older living in the host communities of Jordan. Participation was voluntary and no incentives were provided. Additionally, only verbal consent was required to enable a safe and secured environment. The interviews took place in humanitarian organizations in Jordan, public spaces or at participants’ homes. The interviews were translated and transcribed from Arabic to English by a team of researchers who analyzed the data using group narrative methodology. The study was approved by The Committee for the Protection of Human Subjects at the University of California, Berkeley.



Participants had M=4.29 children (1 year to 29 years). Mothers reported that their children witnessed mass killings, experienced hunger, physical abuse, sexual violence, and torture. During their escape journey, the children were exposed to multiple risks and threats to their lives due to the violent war. After crossing the borders and reaching a refugee camp in northern Jordan, children were placed in difficult weather conditions, decreased quality of food and were at risk of being kidnapped. Families who succeeded to leave the camp and resided in urban areas faced significant challenges. The socioeconomic struggles of the newly displaced families impacted the mental and physical well-being of their children. Participants were unable to afford basic necessities such as clothing, food, and medications, resulting in their children’s deteriorated physical health. Some of the children were forced to work, resulting in various physical ailments, discrimination, and abuse from employers. Some children were fortunate to be admitted into schools, however others were reported to stay at home with no access to educational activities. At schools, Syrian children suffered from hostility of local peers. Children were also reported to suffer from mental health symptomatology such as bed-wetting, stuttering, nightmares and being easily startled. In addition, some mothers reported that the insurmountable living conditions made their husbands aggressive, which in turn made their children the victims of domestic violence.

Conclusions and Implications: The Syrian war and subsequent displacement challenges have impacted Syrian children physically, mentally, educationally and emotionally. It is essential to promote policies that advance responsive and culturally sensitive interventions that address the dire needs of vulnerable Syrian refugee children.