Since Afghanistan fell back under Taliban rule in August, tens of thousands of Afghans have fled their country. The United Nation’s refugee agency, UNHCR, estimates the total number of refugees after the Taliban began fighting to retake control early in the year at more than 635,000—adding to the now more than two-and-a-half million Afghans displaced from their country, and the millions more displaced internally, by decades of strife. Globally, UNHCR determines that by the end of 2020, there were 24.6 million refugees, out of 82.4 million displaced people worldwide. It’s intuitive that the toll of forced displacement would mean mental-health challenges for the displaced—but while at least one in three refugees experience high rates of depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress, the issue has remained, in the words of UNHCR’s senior mental-health officer Pieter Ventevogel, “severely overlooked and under-prioritized.” Just to what extent has the global refugee crisis created a global mental-health crisis?

Essam Daod is a psychiatrist and psychoanalytic therapist from an Arab Palestinian village in Galilee, Israel, who co-founded Humanity Crew, an international-aid organization providing first-response mental-health support for refugees around the world. To Daod, the experience of forced displacement doesn’t just bring the risk of serious mental-health problems; it’s inherently a serious mental-health problem. And the more relief organizations, governments, and communities come to terms with this spreading global reality, he suggests, the more effectively and sustainably they’ll be able to address it—in humanitarian aid, in the national debates of host countries, and in the experience of refugee populations in local life.

Eve Valentine: With so many Afghans escaping conflict and the restoration of Taliban rule this year, what kinds of mental-health issues would they be facing as refugees?

Essam Daod: You know, Afghans have been seeking asylum in Europe and the United States for many years, sometimes in larger numbers than we’re seeing now. Unfortunately, they were like the black sheep of the refugees; there was a lot of stigma attached to them. Even in the humanitarian world, organizations often didn’t want to deal with them, focusing aid much more on refugees from the Syrian civil war, for example. In Greece, where we do most of our work, if you were Afghan, you had almost no chance of being resettled. No one would protect you or care about you. Now, for the moment, Afghans have become almost the celebrities of forced displacement.

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