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Jordan and Lebanon: Psychological distress common among Iraqi refugees, IOM study finds


A study by IOM aimed at assessing the mental health and psychosocial needs of Iraqi refugees in Jordan and Lebanon has found high levels of emotional and psychological distress.

The assessment, carried out between November 2007 and January 2008 among 200 families (800 people) in the two countries, revealed that more than half of those interviewed disclosed distress factors including panic attacks, anger, tiredness, sleep problems and fears.

For those who had experienced direct violent attacks - 21 per cent of the refugee sample in Jordan and 34 per cent in Lebanon - including witnessing assassinations of relatives and friends, torture, rape or kidnappings, psychological distress was overwhelming.

The insecurity of their refugee life, a lack of employment and the de-professionalization  of  Iraqis whose qualifications are unrecognized, poor living conditions and access to health and social services, including education, has further aggravated the situation, particularly among Iraqis who have been displaced for two years or longer.

Domestic violence is on the increase among the refugee families as men lose their traditional role of breadwinner with the breakdown of social structures, a sense of disorientation within the Iraqi communities in the two countries, and few opportunities to engage in social activities lead ing    to physical expressions of anger and frustration. Fifteen percent of the women interviewed in female only focus groups reported an increase in violence in the family. "A well raised Iraqi woman should tolerate everything in husband has no other way to get rid of his anger," one woman told researchers.

With 80 per cent of the interviewed families in both countries saying they want to resettle in a third country or return to Iraq but with little opportunity to do so in the near future, the report highlighted the impact of such uncertainty over their future on the mental health of the families.

Although children were found to be more resilient to their new situation, many showed behavioural and learning difficulties attributed not to just distress and stress in the family but also due to differences in the school curricula between Iraq and their host country and prolonged absences from school during the displacement process. A lack of educational infrastructure to meet the increased demands on the systems in addition to financial hardships forcing children to seek work also meant that many children were simply not enrolled at school.

The study, implemented in partnership with a host of international and non-governmental organizations, including UNICEF which provided financial assistance, as well as the Iraqi Youth League and the Jordanian Women's Union, stressed that despite their obvious problems and need for psycho-social assistance, Iraqi refugees are unlikely to refer to  such assistance due to a traditional stigmatization of  mental health  problems, the lack or difficulty in accessing  appropriate services in the two countries and the lack of outreach on this issue among the refugee communities.

Assistance is particularly hampered in Jordan by a shortage of mental health services while in Lebanon, such services are privatized and lack of financial resources prevents Iraqi refugees from using them.

The report recommends urgent intervention in order to avoid long-term psychological problems and to help alleviate the immediate sufferings of the refugees. In addition to providing training to various community and health professionals in order to create national response systems and to avoid the overuse of medications in dealing with symptoms, IOM recommends direct interventions. These include multi-functional centres and safe spaces offering recreational and counselling services as well as vocational trainings.

"The level of instability is very high among the refugees. We see humanitarian agencies and governments responding to the basic needs of displaced Iraqis at home and abroad and we need to see a similar response in dealing with their equally important psychological well-being," said Guglielmo Schinina, head of IOM's psychosocial office in the Middle East.

For any further detail, please refer to the Report on Psychosocial Needs of Iraqis Displaced in Jordan and Lebanon or contact:

Mio Sato - - Tel: +962 65 65 96 60  ext 1051

Rocco Nuri - (Lebanon) - Tel: +961 01 752  118 ext 37

For additional information:

Jean-Philippe Chauzy Tel: 41 22 717 9361 - Mobile: 41 79 285 4366

Jemini Pandya Tel 41 22 717 9486 - Mobile : 41 79 217 3374