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The Royal College of Psychiatrists Improving the lives of people with mental illness

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 religious affiliations.

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 collaborative work.

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 (2015-2017).

SAMH has achieved the following activities and continues to work on them:

  1. 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 Jordan.
  2. Offering professional support and supervision to mental health teams on the ground in neighbouring countries.
  3. Regular professional visits to refugee camps and communities offering psychosocial support and help in meeting the mental health needs of refugees.
  4. Established many psychosocial support projects in neighbouring countries serving wide refugee population.
  5. Supporting medical and psychosocial research and surveys related to the Syrian crisis.
  6. Spreading the culture of maintaining psychological health in the community.
  7. Communicating with other agencies to exchange programs and services.
  8. 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 Parliament.

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 Syrian refugees.

Organisations supporting Syrian refugees and others:


  1. Abou-Saleh, M.T. and Mobayed, M (2013) Mental Health in Post-conflict Syria, International Psychiatry 10:58-60.
  2. Abou-Saleh, M and Hughes P (2015) Mental health of Syrian refugees: looking backwards and forwards, Lancet Psychiatry, 2 (10):870–871.
  3. Almoshmosh, N (2015) Highlighting the mental health needs of Syrian refugees ; Intervention 13 (2): 178-181.
  4. Culture, context and the mental health and psychosocial wellbeing of Syrians review by UNHCR

Mohammed Abou-Saleh

Peter Hughes

Nadim Almoshmosh

Redwan Al-Khayat


10 October 2015

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