Local Households Provide Stability After “Toxic Stress”

Written by Junita Calder

Middle East & Africa Regional Coordinator, International Detention Coalition

For many of us, stress is equated with an extra busy work week or a family disagreement.  We don’t have to think too hard in order to apply the coping strategies that we learned as children, secure in a safe and loving family environment.

But what happens to children who are torn from their families by conflict or displacement, subjected to ongoing ‘Toxic Stress’ by continued insecurity in the countries where they attempt to find safety?

According to research presented in this Time magazine article: “Toxic stress can have long-term repercussions, affecting a child’s physical growth — slowing them down from putting on height and weight — and transforming their brain architecture. According to studies, children separated from their parents early in life and raised without a constant, loving caregiver suffer a profound impact on cognitive ability, social function, mental health and brain development.”
It is for this reason that we at the IDC are so encouraged to learn about community hosts who are stepping forward in the MENA Region, to take in and provide alternative care for refugee and migrant children – and vulnerable adults – who have been separated from their families.  These North African and Middle Eastern households are giving their ‘guests’ a stable home in which to decompress and begin to recover from their traumatic experiences.
Over the next few months, the IDC will share examples of – and learnings from – Community Hosting care arrangements which are being run as pilot programmes by Civil Society groups and as rights-respecting migration governance options by governments, in the MENA Region.  We will also share the legal framework at the national and regional levels, which enables the provision of such programmes.
According to the UNHCR, in 2016:
  • children constituted 51% of the total refugee population globally, up from 41% in 2009.
  • Unaccompanied or separated children – mainly Afghans and Syrians – lodged some 75,000 asylum applications in 70 countries in 2016, although this figure is assumed to be an underestimate.
  • In the Middle East, more than 2.4 million boys and girls had been forced to flee Syria; and
  • More than 1 million children had been forced to flee the continued insecurity in South Sudan – children constitute 62% of the refugees from South Sudan.
As we know, “…most refugees actually settle in neighbouring countries. “The countries in the [MENA] region are taking the brunt of the displacement caused by conflict…” so ‘homegrown’ solutions such as community hosting care arrangements are vital to ensure that non-citizen people living in MENA countries are able to enjoy their rights, without the fear of arbitrary and unnecessary immigration detention. Additionally, we know that “…the most powerful tool that can make a difference to [migrant] children under toxic stress — [is] a stable, loving, known caregiver.”
By providing stability, nurture and support, community hosts are facilitating the recovery and flourishing of displaced people in the MENA Region.  We look forward to sharing more about specific programmes, the learnings and the healthy relationships that are beginning to emerge, as MENA households practice generosity, hosting vulnerable migrant guests.

Stay tuned for more in this series on community hosting in MENA.