It should come as no surprise that if you hear bombs and bullets around the clock, you’ll have trouble sleeping at night. It doesn’t seem to keep the president up at night, though.
With Trump proposing cuts to agencies and programs that would be integral to deescalating the Syrian conflict—from humanitarian aid to diplomatic efforts—it’s clear that Washington remains unmoved by the nightmare that has gripped the lives of a whole generation of Syria’s children. A new study by Save the Children, based on more than 450 interviews with adults and children across the country, reveals that six years of war have left a generation with massive invisible scars, as humanitarian aid efforts dwindle.
Following the war’s deadliest year for children so far, the attention of international aid authorities has focused primarily on delivering immediate relief. But “toxic stress” is wreaking untold havoc on children from the inside as well, according to researchers: “ongoing bombing and shelling is the number one cause of psychological stress in children’s daily lives.” About half of children “say they never or rarely feel safe at school and 40 percent say they don’t feel safe to play outside, even right outside their own home…. 78 percent of children feel grief and extreme sadness some or all of the time.”
“We notice that they are always stressed and react to any unfamiliar noise, if a chair moves or the door bangs, because of their fear of the sound of airplanes and rockets,” states Mohammed, an aid worker with Save the Children’s partner organization Shafak in Idlib. “Children are increasingly isolated and don’t like to participate in our activities, and in the young children we’re seeing a lot of cases of involuntary urination.”
According to Alexandra Chen, a child-protection and mental-health specialist at Harvard University who has studied the report, the findings reveal that child refugees, regardless of whether they’re in an active conflict zone, are not out of crisis but, rather, face unique threats: “The refugees are not necessarily in a relatively safe spot at all. Being a refugee for these children often means involvement in sexual trafficking or human trafficking so, there are different kinds of dangers.”
Experts fear that children displaced inside and outside the country are being tracked into a lifetime of emotional volatility that, without proper intervention, will lead to violent adulthoods. Appropriate mental-health services are desperately scarce at the refugee camps, and many children display destructive coping strategies through aggression as well as emotional despair.