Launching the RCPsych Syrian Refugees Taskforce
The conflict in Syria, now in its fifth year, is unprecedented
in the magnitude of humanitarian and public health catastrophe:
more than 220 000 people are estimated to have been killed, most of
whom were civilians with a high Proportion of women and children.
An estimated 9 million Syrians have fled their homes and the UN
High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that more than 4
million have fled to Syria’s immediate neighbouring countries.
Studies into the mental health of refugees and displaced persons
in Syria and surrounding countries suggest rising levels of
psychosocial distress. Coverage of mental health and psychosocial
support services (MHPSS) for internally displaced people and
refugees in difficult to access areas is minimal. In light of the
ongoing violence, demand for services—particularly reinforced,
culturally appropriate services—is expected to continue to grow (1,
2, and 3).
Meanwhile, the UNHCR has reported on MHPSS assessment for Syrian
refugees in Lebanon, highlighting the need for a coordinated
effort. To assist the humanitarian community, UNHCR have published
a review on culture and mental health of Syrians (4).
In March 2014 the International Advisory Committee (IAC)
supported the proposal to develop a strategy in regard to the
Syrian Humanitarian Crisis and asked Mohammed Abou-Saleh, Peter
Hughes, Nadim Almoshmosh and other Members of the College to put
together a remit for such an undertaking. The IAC agreed that an
RCPsych Syrian Refugee Taskforce (SRTF) should be established.
The Purpose of this Syrian Refugee Taskforce is to scope the
mental health needs of refugees displaced by the Syrian Civil War
as well as the capacity of the Taskforce and the Royal College of
Psychiatrists to meet those needs. The Taskforce will develop an
action plan and operationalize its prime aims of advocacy and
volunteerism. The Taskforce will work with other associations
mainly the Syrian Association for Mental Health (SAMH); the British
Arab Psychiatric Association (BAPA) and individuals working for the
benefit of Syrian Refugees.
The Syrian Refugees Taskforce will have no political or
SRTF has collaborated with SAMH and other groups. In March 2015,
Members of SAMH and SRTF met with a group of Syrian medical
professionals, humanitarian aid workers, public health specialists
and academic researchers in London at the Royal Society of Medicine
to review current knowledge about the health situation in Syria and
surrounding countries, and highlight gaps. The Syria Health Network
was established to drive forward elements of the agenda identified
at the March meeting and galvanise support for ongoing research and
The Syria Health Network had its second workshop in September
2015, focusing on mental health. It was intended for policymakers
in the UK and elsewhere, medical and public health professionals
working on Syria, and academic researchers.
The SRTF will collaborate with SAMH complementing its work in
the neighbouring countries to Syria where the majority of Syrian
Refugees have been displaced (Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan)
developing and providing specialist mental health services,
training programmes to non-specialised and specialised health
workers and research guided by SAMH Strategic Plan
SAMH has achieved the following activities and continues
to work on them:
- Holding 3 annual conferences in Turkey highlighting and working
on meeting the mental health needs of Syrians since 2013 and
arranged many specialised symposia and training workshops for local
mental health workers and volunteers in Turkey, Lebanon and
- Offering professional support and supervision to mental health
teams on the ground in neighbouring countries.
- Regular professional visits to refugee camps and communities
offering psychosocial support and help in meeting the mental health
needs of refugees.
- Established many psychosocial support projects in neighbouring
countries serving wide refugee population.
- Supporting medical and psychosocial research and surveys
related to the Syrian crisis.
- Spreading the culture of maintaining psychological health in
- Communicating with other agencies to exchange programs and
- Participating in the Tele-mental health projects to support
teams on the ground.
More recently, we have been invited to join the network of NGOs
and other humanitarian organizations operating in the UK in
supporting Syrian refugees since the Prime Minister’s announcement
that the UK would take 20,000 more people during the course of this
We aim to provide voluntary mental health and psychosocial
support for Syrian refugees in the UK .We propose to create a
volunteers network of psychiatrists and other allied professionals
who are willing to provide a voluntary contribution of mental
health service and psychosocial support to the Syrian refugees in
the localities where they are resettled in the UK.
We are launching the SRTF and call on members of the College and
mental health professionals to support us in our efforts to support
Organisations supporting Syrian refugees and
- Abou-Saleh, M.T. and Mobayed, M (2013) Mental Health in
Post-conflict Syria, International Psychiatry 10:58-60.
- Abou-Saleh, M and Hughes P (2015) Mental health of Syrian
refugees: looking backwards and forwards, Lancet Psychiatry, 2
- Almoshmosh, N (2015) Highlighting the mental health needs of
Syrian refugees ; Intervention 13 (2): 178-181.
- Culture, context and the mental health and psychosocial
wellbeing of Syrians review by UNHCR
10 October 2015