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Trauma survey in Syria

Briefing notes

Trauma survey in Syria

22 January 2008

The results of a trauma survey carried out among Iraqi refugees in Syria have been issued today. A total of 754 people were interviewed, who provided information about themselves and their families (a total of 3,553 people).

The survey - undertaken as part of a wider survey of Iraqis who registered with UNHCR's office in Syria between 31 October and 25 November 2007 - showed that every single person interviewed reported experiencing at least one traumatic event (as defined by the Harvard Trauma Survey) in Iraq, prior to their arrival in Syria.

One in five of those registered with UNHCR since January 2007 - more than 19,000 individuals - are registered as "victims of torture and/or violence" in Iraq. The survey was carried out for UNHCR and its partners to gain a deeper understanding of these issues.

Seventy-seven percent of the Iraqi refugees who were interviewed reported being affected by air bombardments and shelling or rocket attacks. Eighty percent reported witnessing a shooting. Sixty-eight percent said they experienced interrogation or harassment by militias or other groups, including receiving death threats, while sixteen percent have been tortured. Seventy-two percent were eye witnesses to a car bombing and seventy-five percent know someone who has been killed.

The report highlighted the many forms of torture endured by Iraqi refugees, including beatings, electric shocks, objects being placed under fingernails, burns and rape. Most instances of torture were perpetrated by militias (sixty-nine percent). The survey conclusions call for increased advocacy among all groups within Iraq to end torture and for programmes to address mental health issues among Iraqi refugees and displaced persons.

The so-called Hopkins Symptom Checklist and the Harvard Trauma survey - two standard assessment tools that have been used to evaluate the morbidity of mental health and the prevalence of traumatic events experienced by people who lived in areas of conflict- was completed by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) based in Atlanta. The assessment tools are named after Harvard and Johns Hopkins Universities where the academics who developed the tools were based.

UNHCR together with its health partners are prioritizing psycho-social support for refugees. This includes regular referrals to psychiatrists, clinics and mental health institutions. UNHCR is also working with volunteers to offer support to the family members of people suffering from psychiatric disorders. The survey showed that depression and anxiety are highly prevalent - at eighty-nine percent and eighty-two percent, respectively.

UNHCR has appealed for $261 million this year to support Iraqi refugees and those displaced inside Iraq. Part of this money will be allocated to psycho-social care and support the governments which have so generously hosted millions of Iraqis. A large scale response, however, is extremely challenging in a region which does not have many psychologists, psychiatrists and mental health support mechanisms.

More than 2.2 million Iraqis are presently uprooted in Iraq while an additional 2 million have been forced to flee to neighbouring countries, in particular Syria and Jordan.