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‘A Decade of Savage Loss For All Syrians’: The Psychological Cost of Civil War

CJ Werleman speaks to the director-general of the International Committee of the Red Cross about a new report laying bare the immense human suffering caused by 10 years of conflict in Syria

Residents of a destroyed Syrian neighbourhood have an Iftar (breaking fast) meal together in Al Atarib town. Photo: Anas Alkharboutli/dpa

‘A Decade of Savage Loss For All Syrians’The Psychological Cost of Civil War

CJ Werleman speaks to the director-general of the International Committee of the Red Cross about a new report laying bare the immense human suffering caused by 10 years of conflict in Syria

As the Syrian Civil War moves into its second decade, a new study conducted by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) sheds new light on how young Syrians, specifically those aged 18 to 25, have endured profound psychological, emotional and economic loss in the 10 years since Bashar al-Assad began mass-murdering those protesting against his rule.

This has been a decade of savage loss for all Syrians,” says Robert Mardini, the ICRC’s Geneva-based director-general. “For young people in particular, the last 10 years have been marked by loss of loved ones, loss of opportunities and loss of control over their future. The survey is a sombre snapshot of a generation who lost their adolescence and young adulthood to the conflict.”

Given that more than half of the Syrian population is aged under 25, the survey provides a glimpse into the horrors that have befallen upon millions of people during the conflict, one that has left approximately one million Syrians dead and millions more injured, along with 12 million people displaced from their homes.

While there are sadly many crimes against humanity taking place around the world –from Yemen to China to Myanmar – none have matched the scale and scope of the Assad regime’s unrelenting brutality. It is now widely regarded as this century’s most lethal moral crime.

This is evidenced in the ICRC’s findings:

The emotional impact of this loss and trauma has created a mental health crisis, with young people in Syria experiencing sleep disorders (54%), anxiety (73%), depression (58%), solitude (46%), frustration (62%) and distress (69%) because of the conflict, according to the ICRC. But, as it stands, most lack access to mental health support and even basic healthcare, leaving them broken and alone.

Mardini warns that these “invisible wounds get deeper as time goes on”.

“It’s also very clear that the conflict has touched every aspect of these young people’s lives,” he adds. “We get a very clear and sombre picture of a generation that has endured devastation, loss and disruption, with many missed milestones and opportunities as well as frustrated ambitions.”

What young Syrians need first and foremost, according to Mardini, is access to economic opportunities, given that 30% of them report having no income to support their families – followed by healthcare, education and psychological support.

“Young Syrians are suffering from lack of income, education, food and basic necessities,” says Mardini. “It’s had such a sheer and tragic impact on their lives and human potential.

“Syrians cannot afford to endure another year like this, let alone 10. The international community can’t turn its back on Syria – we need a real political solution to end the conflict, real financial support for the recovery, a real future for the young people we interviewed and their fellow Syrians.”

Mardini expressed his frustration towards the international community, accusing it of failing to hear the pleas of Syrians for the past decade and writing the conflict off as an “intractable political problem that can’t be fixed, leaving millions of lives in ruin”.

“That is unacceptable,” he says – adding that “Syrians need practical solutions”.

“We have to make sure that children can go to school, that adults can earn an income. That hospitals can treat the sick and injured. The whole fabric of society needs to be repaired. Repairing essential infrastructure is critical, making people’s cities and towns safe again.”

Mardini rightfully observes that it will fall upon the shoulders of young Syrians to reconstruct the country and reconcile the past to prevent future conflict, but says that this will be possible only if the human and civil rights of all are upheld. 

“Young Syrians have been exposed to repeated trauma and extreme stress,” he says. “It is estimated that there are only 83 psychiatrists left working in all of Syria so it’s vital that we deal with the hidden problem of mental health and the deep psychological scars left on the Syrian population.”

The ICRC’s words and warnings must not, once again, fall on deaf ears. Too many lives depend on it.

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