Підтримка дітей та підлітків, які постраждали внаслідок війни в Україні (Ukrainian) Supporting Children and Adolescents Affected by the War in Ukraine
By STARTTS – Service for…
Fighting between the Taliban and Afghan government forces intensified since May 2021 in response to the gradual withdrawal of coalition forces from Afghanistan. On 15 August 2021, the Taliban captured the capital of Afghanistan, Kabul. Afghanistan is a multiethnic country comprised of Pashtuns, Tajiks, Hazara, Uzbeks and several other ethnic minorities. The current crisis in Afghanistan is having a substantial impact on Afghan families regardless of their ethnic backgrounds.
According to Human Rights Watch, hundreds of civilians have been killed and injured by the fighting, including indiscriminate government air strikes, targeted killings and attacks by an Afghan branch of ISIS. According to the UNHCR, nearly 400,000 Afghans have been forced to flee their homes since the beginning of 2021 in response to intensifying hostilities across the nation. 80% of these internally displaced people are women and children and recent escalation of violence has brought the total population of forcibly displaced people in Afghanistan to over 3.5 million. Human Rights Watch has reported that the Taliban has severely restricted women’s rights and freedom of expression. Adding to the humanitarian catastrophe, the COVID-19 pandemic has overwhelmed Afghanistan’s health care system.
In NSW many school students (and/or their parents) with ties to Afghanistan are experiencing acute anguish, grief, retraumatisation, flashbacks, anxiety, depression, fear and sleep problems at this time. Almost all Afghans in NSW have family members and friends still residing in Afghanistan with very little hope of being reunited in Australia. Many Afghan families in NSW are desperate for the Australian government to urgently review visa applications for their family members and friends. Most are very fearful that their loved ones will be caught up in the fighting and are deeply worried about targeted killings, kidnappings and forced marriages by Taliban fighters. In addition, Afghans living in Australia on temporary visas are particularly fearful of being deported back to Afghanistan.
Coupled with these pressures, many young Afghans in NSW are classed as ‘essential workers’ during COVID-19 restrictions working in supermarkets, food outlets and food delivery jobs. This often contributes to young people’s mental load due to fears of exposure to COVID-19 for themselves and their household members at a time where their income is especially important to make up for family members’ lost incomes and the increased need to send money to support family overseas.
Which students are likely to be affected?
Students with Afghan heritage
Australia has a long history of Afghan immigration. However, according to the 2016 census, at least 87% of people who identify as Afghan, arrived in Australia since 1996. This means that many students with Afghan heritage that are at school today, are likely first or second generation Afghan forced migrants. Second-generation students may have spent their whole lives in Australia and may or may not speak Dari, Hazaragi or Pashto. Regardless of their perceived ties to Afghanistan, these students likely have relatives in Afghanistan who they are worried about, they may be witnessing the grief, worry and anger of their parents and family in Australia, and indeed, be personally struggling with sadness, hopelessness, horror and grief for a country and a people they feel a strong bond with. Some Afghan students may have been born in Pakistan, Iran or Australia.
Students with links to the Hazara community
Afghanistan’s Hazara community have been specifically targeted for decades by extremist militants for their Shi’a Muslim beliefs and their more liberal views on education, women’s rights and public participation. Members of the Hazara community in Australia are acutely fearful for the safety of their loved ones living in Afghanistan.
How can I support my students?
What are the signs that a student may be struggling?
During this time of remote learning, it can be especially difficult to identify which students may be struggling, which is why we recommend proactively reaching out to families with links to Afghanistan at this time. Having said that, students who are feeling overwhelmed by their reaction to the situation in Afghanistan may show signs or report symptoms of their distress through remote learning interactions in one or more of the following ways:
Supporting Parents and Carers
Many family members of students will be deeply affected by the crisis unfolding in Afghanistan. In addition, students, parents and grandparents may have been previously traumatised (either directly or vicariously) by the long history of conflict and poverty in Afghanistan.
The fighting in Afghanistan, together with the COVID-19 situation in both Afghanistan and in NSW can lead to a recurrence of post-traumatic stress symptoms. Many families will appreciate a phone call from the school (for instance, from a teacher or Community Liaison Officer), checking in with their welfare at this difficult time.
Schools can provide families with STARTTS’ contact details (9646 6800) or offer to support them to make a referral for counselling at STARTTS (Telehealth via videoconferencing or phone is available) now, or at a future time that suits them. STARTTS will also be starting up online debriefing groups for Afghan adults as soon as referral forms come in. For either individual counselling or online debriefing groups, please submit a referral form for each individual parent/guardian/grandparent that would like support from STARTTS.
The staff member could ask the parent/carer if they are happy to receive a follow-up phone call in a month’s time to see how they are coping.
You may also wish to share these guided relaxation tracks with families.
As educators and counsellors, we are not immune to the impacts of trauma. You may find that the crisis in Afghanistan has affected you personally, perhaps through personal links to Afghanistan, triggering of previous traumas or through empathising with affected students, colleagues and community members. Some symptoms you may recognise in yourself include a change in appetite, sleep and/or mood, nightmares, intrusive imagery, trouble concentrating, memory problems, social withdrawal, increased sensitivity to violence and/or feelings of despair and hopelessness. There are several avenues through which you can seek support.
STARTTS School Liaison Program
For more information or to request specialist consultation, professional learning or support for you school community, please visit our website or contact Shaun Nemorin, School Liaison Team Leader, email@example.com