How Being Forced Across Borders Causes Mental Strains

Palestinian woman stands at the entrance of her home in Bethlehem after its been shelled for the 7th time.

Caring for oneself isn't an easy task.

Imagine the burden of remaining strong so as to provide some level of stability for the rest of your family while you are continuously, against your will, forced across borders.

Currently, there are more than 15.4 million refugees in the world.

Iman was a Professor of Engineering at the University of Baghdad. In August 2005, she was left blind after being attacked along with her husband.

We met at the Caritas Migrant Center in Lebanon.

“We used to have four cars and a large house. Now we don’t earn anything and our savings have nearly run out. I am broken inside living this life of begging,” Iman said in an interview with Migrant Stories. 
“I am struggling to provide healthcare for me and my diabetic daughter. We have been driven from our homes, victimized, and even outside our country we lack security. The war is on the Iraqi people,” adds Iman.  
"I don't want charity; I want to work. I didn't ask America for this war." 

There are an estimated 27 million internally displaced people worldwide, with Sudan representing the largest population at 5 million.

Arafa Hassan is from central Sudan’s Nuba Mountains, which lies in the state of South Kordofan. As a child she dreamed of sharing her cultural heritage internationally but those aspirations vanished when she was forced to leave her homeland.

“We used to have our own language but then Arabic was forced on us. I witnessed members of my family being raped and killed,” Arafa told Migrant Stories. “Our family was driven out after the government seized our lands. Although it’s difficult living the life of a refugee, which could mean being detained or without basic needs, we had to escape persecution.”

High Chronic Neurological Disease Plagues Refugees

As the number of refugees continues to rapidly increase, health officials are shifting their focus from infectious diseases to monitoring neurological diseases that affects a high proportion of refugees exposed to various levels of mental shock.

A study conducted in 2011, which is a part of a national United Nations (UN) pilot project, says that refugees are in need of targeted neurological health services, health education for neurological disorders, and long-term and sustainable chronic disease management.

Neurological diagnoses were reported in 1,295 refugees out of 2,539 refugee visits, accounting for 17 percent of all refugees who were receiving health assistance and 4 percent of the 7,642 Iraqi refugees registered in Jordan in 2010.

The study found that 4.97 percent of refugees with neurological system disorders reported being victims of torture. Seventy-eight percent were diagnosed as chronic disorders, with nearly 70 percent of individuals originating from Baghdad.

A neurological disorder occurs when structural, biochemical or electrical abnormalities in the brain, spinal chord or in the nervous system results in common symptoms such as epilepsy, back pain, headaches, root and nerve plexus dysfunctions and strokes.

Psychological stress incurred during times of emergencies such as natural disasters, war, and being uprooted from their natural environment are major triggers that can cause disruption to the normal flow of the nervous system.

“Limited data has been collected on neurological diagnosis in terms of chronic disorders and how people live day to day as refugees,” Dr. Farrah Mateen of the Department of Neurology and International Health at John Hopkins University in Baltimore, a member of the American Academy of Neurology and lead researcher for the study told Migrant Stories. 
“Over time health services have been more geared towards infectious diseases and this data shows that in fact there are more chronic ailments that need to be looked at,” adds Dr. Mateen. 
“Understanding the neurological disorders in vulnerable displaced persons is crucial to developing sustainable policy measures to recognise and ultimately address what may be a large and lifelong burden of neurological disorders in refugee populations.”

Migrant Stories Series

Two weeks ago, I wrote a post about how the single-story robs us our dignity.

To my surprise, I was asked to do a series of excerpts from an eMagazine I created for the Her Blueprint audience titled, Migrant Stories: Tales From Women Forced Across Borders.

You can grab your copy here if you haven't already.

Migrant Stories is about Dignity. Storytelling. Respect. Awaken.

It's also about using sacred journalism to repair and heal one's dignity. Most importantly, it's about using the power of up close and in-depth storytelling to foster a culture of respect and awaken the world to one of the most pressing and under-reported issues of our time.

I look forward to sharing more stories with you.

Until then, over to you

Researchers warn that as conflict and natural disasters continue to uproot individuals, a global trend towards high chronic disease in displaced refugees could reach pandemic proportions in the coming years.

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