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Innovating New Approaches to Mental Health for Urban Refugees in Jordan

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By Justyna Alsamawi – Volunteer, International Medical Corps, Jordan

Of the world’s 10.5 million refugees, only one-third live in traditional camps settings. Since the 1950s, the trend for refugee movement has shifted increasingly toward urban settings, due in part to the hope for increased employment opportunities, ability to remain anonymous and greater self-sufficiency. Despite these potential gains, “urban refugees” lack natural social support networks, suffer from isolation within the host population, and are more vulnerable to acts of sexual and gender-based violence and exploitation. In large cities, migrants and refugees, many of whom have experienced loss and been exposed to extraordinary events, are difficult to identify and reach with humanitarian services including primary and mental health care.

Jordan, a primarily urbanised country, has long been a key destination for refugees. Palestinian, Iraqi, Sudanese, Somali, and, most recently, Syrian refugee groups constitute the most vulnerable urban populations in Jordan. Though they face a range of health and protection needs, reaching and assisting urban refugees, especially those not registered with the UN Refugee Agency, can be challenging. Addressing the mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) needs of urban refugees requires effectively integrating mental health practices into primary health care systems, the commitment of well-trained health practitioners, and strong coordination at the national and local levels.

To address these challenges, the Psychosocial Services and Training Institute in Cairo in affiliation with the American University in Cairo organised a workshop entitled “A Growing Challenge: Psychosocial and Mental Health Support for Refugees and Migrants living in Urban Settings”. This three-day conference in April 2012 was held in Cairo, one of the largest urban settings for migrants and refugees. Representatives of international non-governmental agencies from more than 20 countries and regions, including Egypt, the West Bank, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Ethiopia, Kenya, Hungary, Canada and the United States attended the conference.

International Medical Corps’ Jordan mission was represented at the conference by Sawsan Moh’d Sa’aada, Case Management Team Leader, whose presentation “International Medical Corps Interventions to Build Initiatives with Jordanian National Governments for MHPSS of Refugees and Migrants in the Urban Context” sparked great interest among the international audience. Ms. Moh’d Sa’aada’s presentation highlighted International Medical Corps’ work with the Jordanian Ministry of Health (MoH) and Jordan Health Aid Society (JHAS), which International Medical Corps has worked to build the capacity of in the field of MH education.
International Medical Corps-Jordan’s MH e-learning training for health practitioners, currently being developed, was of particular interest to the audience. Mental Health E-learning training – an interactive educational platform on mental disorders and needed interventions –is designed specifically for health practitioners in Jordan at the national (MoH) and local (JHAS) level.

“MH E-learning is a more sustainable and consistent way of training Jordanian health practitioners that could be ongoing and accessible at any time and for everyone, regardless of his or her current field location in Jordan,” said Ms. Moh’d Sa’aada. “Through this initiative, practitioners will be able to respond to MHPSS needs of urban refugee and migrant communities scattered across Jordan efficiently and in a timely manner.”

According to Ms. Moh’d Sa’aada, this conference was a great platform for international agencies working with urban refugees to share innovative interventions and approaches to respond to the MHPSS needs of these vulnerable communities. 

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