Aid & Development

“We live together, we celebrate together”: Programme to help improve the mental health of refugee children in Lebanon

Middle East

An initiative has been launched to provide psychological support to children in Lebanon, for whom non-citizenship has precluded societal participation.

Manar, who is living in Lebanon with her Lebanese mother and Egyptian father, dreams of obtaining Lebanese citizenship. She paints a Lebanese passport onto a drawing of herself, and says that the drawing reflects her dream of having her mother’s nationality.

Manar told reporters that discrimination at school between Lebanese and non-Lebanese students is so severe that it has caused her to break down in tears during class. Manar felt particularly hard done by after being disciplined for having forgotten her residency papers one day, and when she went home she told her mother she no longer wants to stay in Lebanon. 

More than 20 children of different Arab nationalities, and whose nationalities are undeclared or under-study, are taking part in a new project entitled “We Live Together and Celebrate Together”, which was launched by the “My Nationality Is My Dignity” campaign to raise awareness of the psychological issues borne by children in Lebanon who have been unable to attain Lebanese citizenship.

One organiser told reporters that there have been numerous child suicides in the past year following failed attempts to obtain citizenship, and that mothers are often in despair as to the mental state of their children who are in this position. Whilst some children refuse to complete their studies, others refuse to integrate more broadly and have experienced bullying in schools. 

One Syrian teenager, Youssef, grabbed the attention of the camera to tell his story, holding up a painting of a mother and children alongside a cedar tree inside a Lebanese flag. Youssef says that he and others in the same situation “cannot participate in any training or sport because [they] are not Lebanese”, calling on authorities to grant him Lebanese citizenship so that he can “enjoy [his] rights like any other Lebanese person”. 

Another event organiser pointed out that politics may have a role to play in the delayed process of granting citizenship to these children, pointing out that the refugee crisis in the country has pushed parliamentarians towards more hard-line, Lebanon-first stances. The popularity of politicians, she says, will not last forever, and the action that they have taken to preserve it in the short-term is having significant impacts on the mental health of these children, who are unable to learn, work or enjoy the regular activities that their Lebanese classmates can. 

The project “We Live Together and Celebrate Together” has for the first time provided the opportunity for the children of mothers to express their concerns about their children’s welfare. The drawings produced by the children will now be subjected to psychological analysis, after which children will partake in psychological and social support workshops.