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Qatar tribune

Tribune News Network

Doha

The impact of conflict and displacement on the family is both complex and layered, affecting both the unit and its individual members, says Manal Samara, a psychological counsellor at the Child and Adolescent Mental Health department in Qatar Foundation’s Sidra Medicine.

“One impact we see immediately is the breakdown of traditional roles – mother, father, child – and people are left to fill in the missing gaps when tragedy strikes,” she says. “Stay-at-home caregivers are suddenly sole financial providers; young children become protectors of even younger siblings – they are robbed of their childhood and are thrown into survival mode.”

The conference report from Qatar Foundation’s (QF’s) Doha International Family Institute’s (DIFI) Second International Conference on Family Research and Policy in 2016, titled ‘War Conflicts and their Impacts on Arab Families’, states that the normal function of family is dramatically altered in conflict zones, where the role of each family member shifts to revolve around a daily struggle to fulfil three basic needs: access to water, food, and medicine.

Samara explained the toll that basic survival and these shifting roles can have on the family unit: “This instability causes emotional turmoil. Daily decisions being made – big and small – are life and death. Trauma is carried in the body and passed along for generations.”

Zahra Amin, a British-Sudanese national living in Qatar, reflected on her family’s struggle during the ongoing war in Sudan. Initially, when the war broke out, they chose to wait it out in their family home in Khartoum, a decision that weighed heavily on her.

“A week later, things were just getting worse,” Amin says. “My mother and brother decided to take a 12-hour bus ride to Egypt. My father chose to stay with his sister and her daughter, who is disabled and has limited mobility. My family were separated; some were safe and some were not. That month was a nightmare.”

Eventually, Amin’s father and aunt – British passport holders – were among those evacuated to the UK by the British government. Her aunt could take only her daughter with her as a dependent, leaving her son behind.

“It’s important to stress that all those who managed to leave are the ‘lucky ones’,” she says. “Millions of people remain in Sudan and are suffering immensely from the ongoing conflict – unable to get support or relief.

“But there are consequences to leaving as well. We are all separated. My dad, for example, is a successful engineer and business owner, but he’s suddenly forced out of his family home, his country, and he’s unemployed. My aunt worries constantly about her son, even though her daughter is safe. It’s taken a toll on their mental health for sure.”

Azza Nassar, an alumna of QF’s Hamad Bin Khalifa University, left Gaza in Palestine in 2021 to pursue her Master’s degree, leaving her family behind. She currently lives in Qatar, while her parents being evacuated to Egypt after the war on Gaza began in October 2024.

“I know I am lucky because though we are apart, I know my parents are safe,” she says. “But in Palestine, we cannot talk about the resilience of the family unit if there are no families left in the first place. Families are being erased from the civil registry.”

Nassar still has several family members in Gaza who are unable to escape. “I avoid talking to them and hearing their voices,” she admits. “The guilt of being safe while they are in miserable conditions does not leave me. I am getting married, and I feel guilty when I speak to them and they say things like, ‘we wish we could be with you on your big day,’ and ‘we are okay, don’t think of us and live your life’.”

Evacuees endure hardship, witness destruction, and experience trauma and stress, not only during wars and conflicts but also while integrating into host countries or resettling and building new lives.

The DIFI conference report states that, “…families need infrastructure to rebuild, especially in the area of mental health. Individuals in families can’t be full economic actors or parents if they struggle with mental health issues as a result of the conflict, manifesting in PTSD... Psychological support in resettlement is critical for the economy and for the family.”

Samara says: “We talk about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but in Palestine and Sudan right now, there is no ‘post-trauma’. Families are still fighting to survive in the present. We know from the data collected from other regions – Lebanon, Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq – that post-conflict, people will likely suffer from high stress, burnout, anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues.”

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11/06/2024
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