When Alba Sabé asks Derek to remember a safe place, Derek imagines himself taking photos in a different Syria. No outbursts or hunger or fear. He sees himself portraying the faces of his relatives and the favorite corners of his native country. He dreams of being a filmmaker one day. He does it with his eyes closed to escape the smell and sound of the Samos refugee camp, a Greek island near Turkey, where he has lived for a year, crammed together with 4,500 people, in a space suitable for 650.
He is 24 years old and despair and boredom tattooed in his voice: “I don’t know when I will be able to have papers,” explains the young man who prefers not to reveal his identity. Sabé is a Catalan psychologist who works at the NGO Humanity Crew and its mission is to try to alleviate this anguish. “The shortages in the refugee camps are not only food or space, most do not know how to deal with the traumatic experiences they have gone through. Mental health is very important ”, he narrated from the island. Now, in Barcelona, therapy with Derek will continue but through video calls.
“This allows us to continue being present,” Sabé explained from her city. Like her, a group of eight psychologists and psychiatrists uploaded dozens of videos to the Facebook page of the organization during the different quarantines across the globe “so as not to neglect anyone’s mental health.” In eight different languages and with very varied themes, they transferred the consultation to the screen at times when face-to-face was not feasible. Many of the recordings reach thousands of views. The experts also held regular sessions with refugees who were already attending or who were contacted for the first time during the confinement.
Humanity Crew is an international organization determined to provide mental health and psychosocial support for refugees and people in crisis. The NGO, which received the International award from the Princess of Girona Foundation at the end of 2019, seeks to improve well-being and create solid communities in places where uncertainty and the most traumatic experiences reign. In 2017, Humanity Crew created a clinic on-line which enables mental health professionals and volunteers to provide remote support without language barriers or geopolitical restrictions. “Not all specialists can come to the field. Furthermore, the work of a psychologist is not like that of a doctor who comes in for hundreds of surgeries and can return ”, explains María Jammal, co-founder of the entity. “A psychologist needs to establish a lasting relationship and that takes time,” he says.
The coordinator of Doctors Without Borders in Samos, Jonathan Vigneron, alerted Europa Press at the end of September that in recent months he has witnessed a “very worrying” deterioration in the physical and mental health of patients given the movement restrictions, the increase of coronavirus cases and the total lack of decent conditions. “In Moria, we have seen what can happen when this horrible combination is ignored,” he explained, alluding to the fire that left thousands of refugee families without shelter, “the time bomb explodes. In Samos we see exactly the same conditions.” pointed.
“We can’t sleep well, my children haven’t wanted to play for weeks, there are rats everywhere and no one pays any attention to us. The coronavirus is the least of our problems”
At a time when presence was impossible and the tools to cope with reality were essential, Humanity Crew offered emotional shelter to thousands of migrants who suffered from double uncertainty in fields like Samos. There, in addition to the overcrowding, there is hardly access to taps for washing hands and much less masks for everyone. However, when asked if they fear being infected, the answer is always the same: laugh. Oussama, immediately apologizes and remembers in a voice that suddenly hardens: “This is hell. We cannot sleep well, my children have not wanted to play for weeks, there are rats everywhere and nobody pays attention to us. The coronavirus is the least of our problems ”. This Syrian craftsman came with his wife and two children more than a year and a half ago and cannot wait to settle in Germany: “I want to start living.”
The coronavirus crisis has interrupted or stopped mental health services in 93% of the world’s countries, according to a WHO survey published this Tuesday, five days before the celebration of World Mental Health Day. In the study, 130 countries show the impacts of the pandemic on psychological care, which was already crying out for more funding before covid-19. “The WHO has already highlighted the shortage of funds prior to the pandemic. Countries invest less than 2% of their budgets for health in mental health and have difficulties in meeting the needs of the population, “says the report.
The deficiency in these systems is primed in the most vulnerable. 72% of the countries surveyed announce that children and adolescents are among the most affected. And more than 60% regret the lack of care for women before and after childbirth. Likewise, one in three countries acknowledged having access difficulties for drugs for mental and neural pathologies.
Derek is concerned about the coronavirus, but not from a health point of view. Since the pandemic began, migrants have been forced to comply with a kind of curfew by which after 8:00 p.m. they cannot leave the countryside or transit through the city, according to Humanity Crew and the testimony of several affected. Derek angrily recalls how just over a month ago a policeman searched him and sent him back to the field. “He would tell me, ‘This is the last time you go out.’ They want to lock us up as if we were the infected, the only ones who can infect. But we are not the crown ”, he says. Sabé has heard dozens of similar testimonies: “It is very hard to notice this double discrimination. I am also a foreigner but nobody has told me that I cannot be walking from one place to another. It is shameful”.
Therapies are as much about dealing with the guilt that springs from having left “people behind,” such as creating community even in the refugee camp or processing discrimination like Derek remembered. “We try to soften all the traumas they carry,” explains Sabé, who highlights the increasing male participation. “There have been sessions in the field where only five men appear and the next day more than twenty. In their cultures it is not easy for men to express their fears and emotions. We are seeing a lot of progress.” Oussama is one of those who notices progress: “Before, my frustration paid off with my family. I became more aggressive and apathetic. Now I have learned to love them better.”
Offer of help with carefully selected ads
The procedure for asking for help is very simple. Ads reach users through targeted advertisements that are placed in specific locations so that refugees can easily find them. “We do the same as he did Trump to win the election, “jokes Essam Daod, director of mental health and co-founder,” but with a better purpose. The message jumps in several languages and with a link to the website. After the explosion of the port of Beirut, Lebanon, the advertisement asked directly if it was affected by the fires and reported that a group of specialists offered free care while guaranteeing privacy. During the first two weeks, they cared for about 400 people daily. “Many times, they feel more comfortable if they don’t show their face and so we substitute video calls for normal calls. But we want to listen to them and be there ”, he adds.