11 Aug 2022

Language barrier and mental health ‘key concerns’ for Syrians settled in Ireland

Language barrier and mental health ‘key concerns’ for Syrians settled in Ireland

Language barriers and mental health issues among Syrian refugees who have settled in Ireland are key areas of concern, a report has found.

The Voices of Syrians report, published on Thursday, describes the experiences of 153 Syrian refugees who arrived in Ireland between 2015 and 2019 through the Irish Refugee Resettlement Programme.

The report found that “healthcare quality is, on the whole, affected primarily by one concern, and that is language”.

“Access to interpreters is inconsistent and frequently falls below standards established in the Irish health system.”

Refugees from Syria often suffer from trauma, separation from family members and isolation, and in some cases, physical health problems – with access to healthcare and supports hampered by language difficulties.

In the report, Syrian refugees also described their relationships with family overseas and here in Ireland, their relationships with neighbours, their efforts to convert qualifications and work experience for the Irish labour market, supporting their children and partners, and the challenges of becoming fluent in another language.

The report concluded that the area “of most significant concern overall” is that of language.

“Despite an overwhelming enthusiasm to learn the language amongst the interviewed refugees, provision of formal language education, supplementary resources, and opportunities for natural language acquisition (through community events and interpreter-supported participation in cultural events) have not been able to keep pace with the demands that refugees face in acquiring the new language and using it in day-to-day life while establishing their new lives.”

It said that this also has a significant impact in finding work.

Family reunification also remains one of the most significant concerns for 43% of participants in this study.

Some 30% said they were worried about their family due to unsafe conditions, war, lack of financial support, mandatory military service for young men, and risk of torture of family members.

“Some had to give up the names of their family members or friends in the Syrian Arab Republic under torture, and they carry guilt and fear from this. Participants described this affecting their mental health, concentration, and ability to learn new languages and skills,” the report said.

On education, Syrian parents said they were mostly happy with their children’s experiences in schools, with a small percentage experiencing bullying, and participants in the study said they mostly feel safe in their neighbourhoods.

Almost all participants said they have made a close friend since arriving in Ireland, over half in their local neighbourhood, while 37% retain a close friend they made in a reception centre.

And 99% of participants said they speak daily or weekly with family outside Ireland, and that this is important to their wellbeing.

The study found that 95% of participants in this study felt a sense of belonging, and around a third feel confident to ask their neighbours of all backgrounds for help, like in filling forms.

“There is a strong sense of commitment to live in Ireland, increasing independence and fully engaged citizenship,” the report concluded.

Under the UNHCR-led refugee resettlement programme, Ireland brought 2,108 Syrian refugees from Lebanon and Jordan by 2021.

The majority of those arriving under the programme are family groups, with 40% minors of whom three-quarters are children under 12.

The UN said recently that in the first 10 years of the Syrian conflict, which started in 2011, more than 300,000 civilians have been killed – the highest official estimate of civilian casualties.

More than 13 million Syrians have been displaced by war, with half of them located outside of the Syrian Arab Republic.

Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Roderic O’Gorman said: “This report gives voice to refugees and provide important insights for those providing services to those hoping to make a home in Ireland.

“It is evident from this report that refugees have a wealth of experience to contribute to the Irish State.”

The report entitled ‘Voice Of Syrians – Resettled Refugees in Ireland’ was commissioned on behalf of the Irish Refugee Resettlement Programme and was undertaken by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in Ireland.

Lalini Veerassamy, chief of mission of IOM in Ireland, also welcomed the report.

She said: “The ‘Voices of Syrians’ report provides invaluable insights on the experience of resettled Syrian refugees in Ireland and emphasizes on the importance of integration indicators.”

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