Violence as an Infection.. from Syrian Children to Host Communities
‘The prevalence of violence among Syrian children’ is a title that became recurrent throughout the years of war. This expression corresponds to a momentum of studies, research and reports that foreshadow the ominous future of Syria’s children if their outcomes, which took a lot of money, time and effort, are not taken into consideration.
No one can deny the hidden or the forgotten scars which many Syrian children have, scars bursting out from their bodies, from their physical frame, only to go deeper in their souls.
These scars manifest themselves in different forms. Violence, hovers above them all, as an echo for the ugly scenes of conflict and their consequences which their childish eyes witnessed. This violence reflects the fear which Syrian children saw in the eyes of their parents, eyes which registered countless images of destruction, death, displacement, and immigration.
In the controversial context of immigration, it is only natural for Syrian children to carry the illusion of the disease, violence, which they are supposed to be having to the countries hosting them since they make more than 65 percent of children refugees around the world, according to the statistics of the international organization Save the Children.
Hence, the citizens of the host countries started to take precautions to protect their children from this disease; they fight the infection by preventing their children from mixing with their Syrian counterparts, not only through touch or air but also through looking.
I did not realize that the fear of the Syrian refugees went beyond the fear of adults to a deeper one of children. However, a Jordanian woman, who I met in a playground in Istanbul, forced me to seriously consider the idea, the idea of fear.
I spoke to this woman for ten minutes only, but I could not stop thinking of these ten minutes for many days. I searched for an answer to the following question: “Do foreign citizens really fear for their children from Syrian children?”
The woman, who I did not even have the chance to ask her about her name, started talking to me complaining about her problem for she could not find a good kindergarten for her two children in Istanbul.
After she complained to me about her different problems, including the carelessness of the Turkish schools and the high fees of the international schools, I proposed that her children be enrolled in one of the Syrian kindergartens, which attracted Turkish children whose parents wanted to teach them Arabic.
The woman became nervous and tried hard to present her opinion in a nice manner, but she could not. After a somehow hostile, “I beg your pardon,” she told me that she is scared for her children because they might learn violence from Syrian children.
“You know that Syrian children have witnessed a lot because of the war, and I do not want my children to learn violence from them,” she added.
The shock, the limited time span, and the fact that I did not really know the woman prevented me from telling her that it is only natural to come across ‘normal’ Syrian children, and it is equally natural to find some confused children, who escaped their country without understanding what was happening around them. I wanted to tell her more than this and that there are children who have been born six years ago in the country of asylum itself.
There are certain international warnings which placed Syrian schools under a heavy responsibility. These schools are supposed to monitor and control the behaviour of children by including psychiatrists in their staffs.
The studies, which international organizations have conducted concerning refugee Syrian children, have hit the very core of the host societies. However, these studies and their good intentions, which aimed to warn against a real danger affecting the innocence of Syrian children, one that threatens to robe their childhood from them, were translated in a totally contradictive manner.
The largest study of its kind since 2011, conducted by Save the Children Organization, monitored the mental health of Syrian children and went out on the media, warning that 89 percent of these children suffer from severe psychological trauma.
The statistics mentioned above might have influenced the Jordanian woman, who decide to work by the well-known idiom, “prevention is better than cure.”
Mental health professionals have scientifically proven that the transmission of violence from one child to another is possible. However, this happens after a long time of cohabitation that synchronizes with the parents’ lack of attention to the behavioral changes in their son or daughter.
Mahmoud Othman, a therapist and psychologist, suggested deeper dimensions which might force the parents to make the decision of not allowing their children to mix with Syrian ones. These dimensions might be controlled by a class mentality, especially in the Arab societies which consider their citizens as better than refugees. Most of the time, these societies regard refugees and their children as homeless people.
Othman explained the attitude of parents in the countries of asylum, without making a generalization out of it, and translated it from a fear for their children from violence as an infection to a fear that erupts from mixing cultures. “In other words, what you consider as violence in your country might be only a bad behavior in my country.”
Beyond that, violence in children is not only war-related but may be found in the most secure and peaceful societies around the world.
Psychiatry believes that the habit of imitation in children may be one of the ways to be violent, regardless of the circumstances of war, if they imitate the behavior of older children or adults, under the influence of the words “if you are not a wolf, you will be eaten by wolves” and “the law of the jungle.”
It is unfortunate that the treatment of violence in Syrian children, who have been robbed of their childhood, is by keeping them away from their peers in the host countries for it sounds like keeping the medicine away from the patient.