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Egypt: Refugees enable psychological support in their own communities

Reuters AlertNet
Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The various conflicts in East Africa and the Middle East continue to lead to a massive influx of refugees. By January 2012, over 44,000 people had found refuge in Egypt, in particular in Cairo.

These displaced persons mainly come from Sudan, Iraq, Eritrea, Somalia and Ethiopia. The great majority, including the children, had suffered problematic experiences in their home countries (bombing, violent loss of family members, destruction of their homes, amongst other things). They are therefore more inclined to develop mental pathologies which can lead to suicide or insanity. Already weakened by the conflicts, the refugees now come up against cultural and language barriers, in a country going through political change and in a difficult economic context.

In spite of a refugee status and the language and cultural limitations, in 2009 Terre des hommes (Tdh) set up a training project for the refugees themselves to bring solutions to their compatriots’ psychological distress. The aim is also to establish a network of all the refugee communities in Cairo, in collaboration with NGO partners, the HCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees), hospitals, government services and community groupings, to identify people suffering from mental trouble better, and so to look after them better. This project anticipates helping some 10,000 people, through various measures.   

Apart from the training of social workers, Tdh also takes care of the good coordination of activities organised in refugee communities by the social workers, at an administrative and financial level.

The strength of a network

Setting up a network of partners responds not only to the need for improved understanding of psychological and social needs, but also to the problems and resources of the groups within the refugee communities. Information collected in the field is gathered at the HCR. Twice a year, conclusions and observations are then communicated at a meeting between the HCR and all the psychosocial workers, who can in this way watch over the identification of problems emerging in their communities, and bring rapid and appropriate solutions for them.

Involving the communities

Integrating the communities into the project enables them to get a sense of responsibility and to become involved in the questions relating to their wellbeing. Hundreds of participants in groups discuss subjects defined by the needs of their community, such as the mediation of conflicts or life after the revolution. In addition, a base of 20 trained volunteers offer assistance to psychosocial workers, for example, by taking a beneficiary to the doctor’s.

Recreational activities

Psychological and social support is an essential component of the project for the prevention of behavioural problems in children. For this reason, activities are organised daily for children living in the camps. They can draw pictures, or paint and sculpt, under the supervision of art assistants, but they can also benefit from sports clubs to organise football or basketball matches with sports trainers. More than 300 youngsters every month take part in the various art and sports workshops.

About the training courses

The American University in Cairo makes classrooms available, free of charge, for training courses for the refugees. Tdh gives the courses in its position of expert in community management in the domain of psychological and social support and of protection. The first level of the training course is rewarded by a diploma, corresponding to 350 hours of training and supervision. At this stage, the students are already able to bring assistance to the mental health of the community, in its own language and with respect to its culture. If wished, they can then deepen their knowledge at a second level of the course. 24 psychosocial workers were thus trained in the first term of 2012 and have already intervened in 500 cases, helping over 800 beneficiaries.


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