Three faces of the refugee crisis

June 16, 2017
Written by Kristin Myers
Photo by Abbie Trayler-Smith

Right now there are more than 65 million people forcibly displaced worldwide. That includes refugees, internally displaced persons (IDPs), stateless persons, asylum seekers and returnees — all of whom we recognize on June 20th, World Refugee Day. At Concern we’re privileged to work with many of the people behind the statistics, and each of them has their own story to tell. Today we bring you three that particularly touched our hearts.

Haya is a refugee

Over the last few years, the Syrian conflict has been the single largest driver of the world’s refugee crisis. Since violence broke out more than six years ago, over five million Syrians have fled, most to neighboring countries like Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan. Many find themselves living in abandoned buildings or temporary shelters at camps.

Life as a refugee can also have deep psychological impacts. “It got so tense at home that I started pulling out my hair,” says Haya. “It was the only thing that calmed me down.”

“I never thought I would bring my children into the world and that they would become refugees,” says Haya* a Syrian woman living in Tripoli, Lebanon. The mother of five shares a cramped two-room apartment with two other families.

Mother in Lebanon with children

Haya* and her five children share a two-room apartment with two other families. Photo: Abbie Trayler-Smith/Panos

Though they have escaped the violence of home, many Syrians struggle when they arrive in another country. Having been forced to flee with what little they can carry, most use up all their resources making the dangerous journey to safety and arrive penniless. Often they’re not allowed to work in their host country, and language barriers can prevent their kids from integrating into local schools.

Life as a refugee can also have deep psychological impacts. “It got so tense at home that I started pulling out my hair,” says Haya. “It was the only thing that calmed me down.” Concern offers counseling and psychosocial support to refugee men and women like Haya who are struggling to cope.

“The sewing workshops are therapeutic. They calm my mind. I feel comfortable with the other women in the class. We share our stories and somehow it gives us the strength to keep going.”

Haya has very real reasons to worry about her family. “My two youngest children were born in Lebanon,” Haya explains. “The authorities have not allowed me to register their births. Without a birth certificate, it means they are not even recognized as citizens. I worry about their future.”

Stateless persons — people with no proof of nationality — can have difficulty accessing social services like education, health care, and employment. It’s also very difficult for stateless persons to travel.

Despite the daily stresses she faces, Haya finds some solace in the embroidery classes that Concern offers to refugee women in her community. “The sewing workshops are therapeutic,” she says. “They calm my mind. Using my hands stops me reaching for my hair. I feel comfortable with the other women in the class. We share our stories and somehow it gives us the strength to keep going.”

Aayan is internally displaced

Somalia’s ongoing drought is one of the worst in recent history. Hundreds of thousands have been forced to leave their homes and villages to seek food and water, many trekking miles on foot. The journey across hot, dry land is frequently filled with unimaginable suffering and sorrow.

Aayan* with her three-year-old son, Aaden*, at Concern Worldwide's nutrition center in Mogadishu, Somalia

Aayan* with her three-year-old son, Aaden*, at Concern Worldwide’s nutrition center in Mogadishu, Somalia. Photo: Kieran McConville

Aayan* and her son Aadan* recently arrived in a Concern nutrition center in Mogadishu after a 37 mile trek. But Aaayan had started her journey with three children. Tragically, she had lost two of them along the way. There was nothing that she could do to save them.

Right now, around 6.2 million people need food assistance in Somalia, and every day more people continue to leave their homes in search of food and water.

Three-year-old Aadan weighed only twenty pounds when he was assessed by Concern’s teams. Diagnosed as severely malnourished, he was immediately admitted to receive urgent care.

Many other mothers have lost their children in similarly desperate journeys, and as the drought continues, the worst may be yet to come. Right now, there are around 6.2 million people that need food assistance in Somalia — over half the country’s population — and every day more people continue to leave their homes in search of food and water.

Aweng is a returnee

The South Sudanese war for independence from Sudan was one of the longest civil wars in history, lasting more than two decades and forcing hundreds of thousands into exile.

Aweng Aken and her 10-month-old daughter, Adut

Aweng Aken and her 10-month-old daughter, Adut Ayii Garang,at their home in Nyamel, Northern Bahr el Ghazal in South Sudan. Photo: Kieran McConville

During the war, Aweng Akenshe fled north to Sudan to avoid violence, hopeful that she would one day be able to go home. When South Sudan became an independent nation in 2011, Aweng was one of many who believed it would be safe to return and re-establish their lives. The 26 year-old mother of two returned to South Sudan with her husband in 2013.

For returnees like Aweng, it’s not always easy to come home. Often, they find that their land, house, and other assets have been destroyed or taken from them. Returnees must try to start their lives again, usually with no money and very little support.

“Many mothers simply don’t have enough food to keep their child fed and they end up back here. What’s happening here is a crisis.”

As they strived to re-establish themselves, Aweng and her husband were heavily reliant on family, who themselves had little to share. They struggled to get enough to eat. Aweng’s husband eventually returned north in search of work, and without him her situation became even more desperate. She could only afford to feed herself and her 10-month-old daughter, Adut, once a day. Adut quickly became malnourished.

Adut was able to receive treatment at a Concern nutrition facility, but staff fear they may see her again in the future. “We’re seeing a repeating cycle,” said Concern’s Emergency Nutritionist Stella Odong. “Many mothers simply don’t have enough food to keep their child fed and they end up back here. What’s happening here is a crisis.”

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Concern provides thousands of refugees and internally displaced persons throughout the Middle East and Africa with health care, education, skills training, and psychosocial support. Find out more about our work:

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