Stritch hosts lectures on the Syrian refugee crisis and its impact on child health

By Erinn Connor

The Syrian refugee crisis has been called the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II, and local activists explained to Stritch School of Medicine students, faculty, and staff how they can help during lectures on November 15.

Leaders from the Syrian Community Network and the American Relief Coalition for Syria spoke about the origins of the conflict in Syria and how they are trying to make Chicago a new home for refugees.

“What do these people have to gain by staying home [in Syria]? Why would anyone stay there?” said Suzanne Akhras Sahloul, founder and executive director of the Syrian Community Network. “The U.S. has a longstanding resettlement program for refugees that’s been successful, but people have a lot of insecurities about the current state of that program.”

Sahloul explained that it takes two to three years for refugees to get vetted and cleared to fly to the U.S. Each refugee is given a lump sump of about $1,800 that is used towards rent, food, clothing, and other basic needs. They otherwise rely on groups like the Syrian Community Network to help them adjust to American culture, look for work, and learn English.

There are currently about 125 refugee families living in Chicago. Sahloul and Hadia Zarzour, vice president and founding member of the Syrian Community Network, explained that the refugees will be dealing with the aftermath of the crisis in their country for years.

“Because it’s an ongoing crisis, I wouldn’t even call what they’re dealing with now PTSD,” said Zarzour. “It’s scary to think about the illnesses these people will have to face once this is over.”

The mental health problems of refugees can include depression, anxiety, flashbacks, nightmares, and more. Sahloul and Zarzour stressed the importance of reaching out to the refugees and advocating for them to get rid of the stigma that surrounds the refugee community.

Zarzour told the story of a Syrian doctor who was jailed for years for simply doing his job. Now he is starting a new life in Chicago with his wife and kids, who are learning English. He is studying to take his medical exams to become a practicing doctor in the U.S.

“These people are going through a hard time now, but they’re seeing just how beautiful the people of Chicago can be,” said Zarzour.

Earlier, Zaher Sahloul, MD, founder of the American Relief Coalition for Syria and former president of The Syrian American Medical Society, spoke about the global health ramifications of what is going on in Syria.

The lectures were hosted by the Center for the Human Rights of Children, the Center for Community and Global Health, the Department of Public Health Sciences, the Health Sciences Division University Ministry, and the Neiswanger Institute for Bioethics.