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Victims of Syria, Iraq Conflicts Short on Emotional Help

  • Scott Bobb

The war in Syria and the offensive by Islamic State militants in northern Iraq and Syria has flooded northern Iraq with nearly two million displaced people. Many refugees are suffering psychological disorders because of their ordeal, and few are getting the help they need.

Baserma Camp, 70 kilometers northeast of Irbil, is home to 4,000 refugees from Syria. Psychiatrists say as many as half of them need some form of psychological treatment.

Naz Abdul-Rahman Baban is a psychiatrist from the Irbil Psychiatric Hospital. She visits this camp twice a week.

"Anxiety is very, very common. That's general anxiety disorder. Panic, we do see panic. People who have panic attacks but that is not that frequent. Depression is common, very common," says Baban.

She and other psychiatrists work with social workers who themselves are refugees living in the camps, says Howler Psychiatric Hospital Director Karzan Shah, who visits other camps.

"The social worker will go around to the tents or cabins. They interview these families. They find these cases which are in need of support or treatment," says Shah.

Treatment can range from counseling to medication and, in severe cases, hospitalization.

Some camp residents say they receive adequate help. But others, like 33 year-old Golbar Abdulrahim from al-Hassaka in northern Syria, disagree.

"We are in a bad situation in general but nobody cares. We have social workers, but they just walk around and write down our names. We do not see anything from them. We want some large NGOs and the U.N. to take care of us," says Abdulrahim.

There are only two dozen psychiatrists in Irbil and the surrounding provinces. Baban says the arrival of so many displaced people is straining local psychiatric services.

"The problem is, when you know you need something and there [are] no resources for it. And you know that people or that person in front of you is in desperate need, and that hurts," says Baban.

Doctors say many displaced feel anger or hatred so deep that it will be difficult for them to return home and live among the attackers who once were their neighbors.