Engaging Syrian refugee youth in finding solutions for ensuring seamless MHPSS cross-border care

By Andreas Hennings Jespersen (Programmes Officer), Reem Rawdhah (Project Coordinator, Seamless Cross Border Care) and Tatiana Salisbury (Director, TT Salisbury Research).

On 24th March, the MHPSS Collaborative, together with Save the Children, convened a workshop with Syrian refugee youth in Turkey and key stakeholders to co-create effective solutions as part of our “Seamless” project for mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) cross-border care. We are sharing  the initial lessons and solutions emerging from the workshop with participants of the Brussels V Conference on Syria taking placed on 29-30th March, and call on decision-makers to better address the MHPSS needs of Syrian children, youth and families – especially those who are on the move.

Providing MHPSS for children, youth and families on the move: a key challenge

When displaced, children and youth often lose their home, community, friends, sense of security, and education. They lose the chance to just “be a child”. Refugee, displaced and migrant children and youth face unprecedented rates of violence, abuse, and grave violations of their rights. This is compounded by the often-lengthy duration of the crises that generate the displacements, and that can have a serious impact on displaced children and youth’s mental health and psychosocial well-being. If nothing is done to mitigate it, this can have long-term consequences on their ability to learn, grow and develop to their full potential. Access to mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) services for children, youth and families on the move is crucial – both life-preserving and life-saving, but as they cross borders and are continuously displaced, it is extremely difficult for them to connect with supports. With increases in migration and displacement amongst children, youth and families, many challenges remain to providing coordinated, quality, accessible MHPSS care for displaced populations across migration routes remains a challenge.

Seamless MHPSS Cross-Border Care

How do we address this challenge? This is the question that our “Seamless” MHPSS Cross-Border Care for Children, Youth and Families project seeks to answer. Seamless focusses on co-creating innovative solutions to increase access to MHPSS services for displaced Syrian children, youth, and families as they cross the border to Turkey to flee the conflict. Turkey is host to the world’s largest refugee population with 4 million refugees and asylum-seekers, 3.6 million of whom are Syrian. Syrian refugee youth in Turkey have gone through a number of stressful experiences, both in Syria where they fled violence, but also in their integration in Turkish society, where they did not speak the language. To identify challenges to cross-border care and find solutions to address them, Seamless uses a human-centered design approach, engaging key stakeholders such as Syrian youth in Turkey, community members, local organizations, academia, NGOs, IFRC and UN agencies. In order to reach youth and families while they were on the move, we used an innovative online communication platform developed by Upinion to capture their perspectives on challenges and solutions.

Challenges identified by Syrian refugee youth in Turkey

Engaging youth with lived experience in co-creating solutions

As part of this ideation process, we convened a prototype workshop on 24th of March 2021. We invited both Syrian refugee youth in Turkey and MHPSS practitioners so that they could provide feedback on a suggested prototype solution and re-design it.

Prototype solution suggested in the workshop

From this workshop, several aspects of a potential solution arose:

  1. engaging and connecting local service providers;
  2. establishing online peer-to-peer support;
  3. providing virtual counselling to those who may need extra assistance; and
  4. developing a website to function as an information hub for MHPSS and other services.

Participants also highlighted the need to consider the issue of safety and security of migrant and refugee youth, as well as the organisations supporting them.

Based on the solutions proposed by young people and practitioners, we will design the prototype and develop a pilot implementation project to test for adaptation and scaling in different regions of the world.

Initiatives like “Seamless” can be brought to scale

We are only scratching the surface of the issues faced by migrants and refugees in accessing appropriate and accessible MHPSS services. But what Seamless shows us is the power and creativity generated in engaging youth with lived experience to identify their challenges and co-create solutions to ensure these cater best to their needs. As we mark the 10th anniversary of the Syrian conflict this year, humanitarian actors and decision-makers meeting in the Brussels V Conference on Syria must ensure Syrian children, youth and families can access quality MHPSS services relevant to their needs, culture and particular experience at all stages of displacement. This would be in line with the fifth recommendation on meaningful and authentic youth engagement in the Copenhagen 2020 Action Plan on MHPSS which 30 agencies, including ECHO, the Danish MFA and the Dutch MFA, have endorsed. Donors can bring initiatives like “Seamless” to scale, by funding research, development and testing of innovative solutions led by youth and families with lived experience.

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