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Helping child refugees from Syria overcome trauma

As thousands of children suffer in the conflict in Syria, work goes on to support child refugees who’ve experienced trauma.

A new report issued by the United Nations on children caught up in armed conflicts across the globe asserts that ‘thousands of children’ have been killed in Syria since the uprising began in March 2011. Calling the death toll ‘unbearable’, the study also warns that boys and girls are now being used by both sides as “suicide bombers or human shields”.

Speaking to journalists in New York, a UN special representative said that despite many ongoing conflicts across the world, children in Syria were maybe suffering “the heaviest toll”. According to the BBC, the UN’s representative accused both sides of “using children” in their campaigns, causing the killing, maiming, detention and even torture of many youngsters. In addition, and as the humanitarian situation inside the country worsens, around two million children are in need of assistance.

Outside the country, a number of humanitarian agencies continue to help child refugees who have experienced severe trauma. For this type of support, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) often turn to a trusted manual for treating children from conflict zones. Created by the Children and War Foundation, the ‘Teaching Recovery Techniques’ manual gives trained non-professionals detailed guidance on how to give children a number of coping strategies.

The manual has already been used to help youngsters caught up in violence elsewhere, places such as Uganda and Gaza. Now, its methods are being rolled out among Syrian refugees. These include getting children to practice visualisation techniques in order for them to gain control over distressing images in their minds. Children are also shown techniques to distract themselves, as well as to manage frightening and repetitive dreams.

Speaking to the BBC, a director of the Children and War Foundation and one of the authors of the manual, explained that conventional wisdom maintained that children are resilient and “bounce back”. But for many youngsters, this is not the case and just like adults, they need help to develop coping strategies after witnessing extreme violence. Equipped with such coping skills, one 13 year-old boy living in a refugee camp after fleeing a village near Homs told the BBC he can now “forget the things that bothered me...[and] get them out of my mind”. With more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees having fled the country (three-quarters of them children) and many more expected because of the ongoing fighting, it unfortunately looks as if the manual will be needed for some time to come.

SOS Children is providing support to thousands of families inside Syria – to find out how you can support children who desperately need your help, visit our Emergency Appeal now.

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