real life

A new psychological term has been coined to describe the suffering of Syrian children.

More than 14,000 kilometres away, there are children enduring a kind of suffering we could not even begin to imagine.

There are more than five million Syrian children who are either refugees or have been displaced within their own country.

They have lost their homes.

Their neighbourhoods have been forever destroyed.

They have lost their pets.

Their families have disappeared, or been murdered right in front of them.

They have been victims of torture, or witnessed people they love be tortured.

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They have looked on as massacres have been carried out before their eyes.

They have been targeted by snipers.

They have grown accustomed to air raids that punctuate their everyday life.

They have suffered such severe physical injuries that many are missing limbs or live with devastating disabilities.

There is no longer such a thing as ‘hope’.

In December of last year, a viral video out of Aleppo featured children so deeply traumatised that they had stopped crying. A little boy’s family had been murdered, and not a single tear rolled down his bloodied cheek.


“Aleppo is now a synonym for hell,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said.

But no matter how much we hear, we read, or we see, we cannot even scratch the surface of imagining.

Dr. M.K. Hamza, a neuropsychologist with the Syrian-American Medical Society told ATTN“We have talked to so many children, and their devastation is above and beyond what even soldiers are able to see in the war.”

At this point, he explained, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) feels insufficient.

Instead, Dr Hamza has termed their mental anguish “Human devastation syndrome,” something completely distinct from anything else we’ve seen in the 21st century.

Image via Getty.

“They have seen dismantled human beings that used to be their parents, or their siblings. You get out of a family of five or six or 10 or whatever — you get one survivor, two survivors sometimes. A lot of them have physical impairments. Amputations. Severe injuries. And they’ve made it to the refugee camp somehow," Dr Hazma says.

“You have millions of children who are devastated and you have to ask, ‘Where is this going to lead?’ One thing is for sure, and it runs counter to the see-no-evil isolationism that, at least rhetorically, is now en vogue: 'It’s going to impact the whole world'.”


Just as 'trauma' does not do the Syrian experience justice, so too does the term 'poor'.

"It's a less than human condition," Hazma says.

One in three Syrian children do not know a world without conflict, as the war reaches it's five year point.

Image via Getty.

As Dr Christine Latif of World Vision eloquently puts it, “The children of Syria have experienced more hardship, devastation, and violence than any child should have to in a thousand lifetimes.”

A psychiatrist who volunteers with Dr Hazma at the Syrian-American Medical Society recently said at a conference, “I have patients who tell me they were touched inappropriately by their doctors. The doctors, because [the patients] were Syrian, assumed they were ‘whores.'"


“There are girls on the streets of Beirut selling themselves — eight, nine years old. And then you tell their parents: Why don’t you send them to school so they can improve themselves? And they say, ‘They make $50 a day. Can you give me $50 a day?’”

When there is no perceivable hope, when you're being bombed by your Allies as much as your enemies, when you're an orphan, when you're day to day experience is as near to hell on earth as it could possibly be, the term 'trauma' is painfully inadequate.

There is a generation of Syrian children living with human devastation syndrome, and their grief, pain and helplessness will, as Dr Hazam said, "impact the whole world," for years to come.

Here's what we can do to help:

You can donate to CARE Australia's Syria Appeal who are providing emergency food, hygiene kits, mattresses and blankets to thousands of affected families.

You can donate to World Vision's relief fund.  

You can support organisations like Welcome to Australia and the ASRC.

You can also write to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s office, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, the Immigration Minister Peter Dutton and your local MP, letting them know that you want to live in a compassionate nation that welcomes people who are fleeing violence and persecution.