Syrian Refugees: Anisa A. Abeytia’s Hopes for Healing Invisible Wounds

May 12, 2018 | 2018 Articles, Mental Health, Tales of Diversity, Wasan Abu-Baker

by Wasan Abu-Baker

Anisa A. Abeytia is a writer and researcher with an interest in Syria, the Middle East, and the Refugee crises. Her work is featured in the Hill, New Arab, Orient, Net English, Middle East Monitor Fremmed, Brunei Times, and the Middle East Observer. She holds an MS and MA degree from Stanford University in Literary Theory, Post-Colonial Thought, and Feminist Theory, and has worked since 2012 in different aspects of the Syrian conflict: humanitarian causes, policy, and refugee assistance. She recognized that the Syrian refugees were in great need of help when she read articles and met some of the refugees in the U.S. She first got involved by contacting different organizations and NGOs to identify opportunities to help refugees. Anissa has worked with Congress, State Department, Homeland Security, Foreign Relations Committee of Congress, and IRC.

Anisa A. Abeytia author

Anisa A. Abeytia

She assessed Syrians’ needs by traveling to the region and speaking with Syrians in the camps and in the different countries. She brought back information to the U.S. hoping to identify how U.S. and Syrian interests could complement each other. Anissa also noticed that Syrian doctors helping in Syria needed support so that they are not detained when they returned. She also worked to obtain millions of dollars to provide aid inside Syria for schools, hospitals, garbage removal, and bakeries.

Syrian refugees, like others, require more than necessities. Studies show that refugees never thrive–for example, after two years in California, Iraqi refugees disintegrated. Large portions of refugees suffer from psychosis, including schizophrenia, but in most situations, mental health services are not offered. It is hard for refugees to share their personal stories, and without native Arabic speakers, it becomes impossible to talk. There are very few Arabic speaking counselors who are well equipped to work with refugees.

Another issue is passivity, which is when they get used to not having to lead their lives. A key idea is to make them active in decision making in their own lives. It is essential that they master the language to communicate and be a part of this development.

When Anisa was in Serbia, a young man from Damascus asked her to photograph him and his family. He wanted Assad to see that they survived, and they were alive and well. During her first trip to Turkey in 2013 outside the café or the hotel, Syrian refugees approached her and they looked like hardened fighters and clearly had a limited future. These men were all young but had very few options that they could choose from.


Family portrait, Belgrade Serbia- makeshift refugee camp, June 2015

“It’s not just about survival or necessity anymore, but also about finding a career with meaning that brings satisfaction to our lives,” Anisa said, “knowing that sometimes you help someone, you sometimes impact people’s lives.”


Leaving, al Hawa, Syrian-Turkish border, Aug 2013

The hardest part of the job is fake news and the propaganda behind it. It is difficult when people think that all Syrians are terrorists and not feeling sympathy for them. This ends financial support for Syrian refugees. It is also frustrating to meet with organizations (i.e. churches) and some U.S. legislators not wanting to get involved in politics. The job is very time consuming, and the results rarely come to completion.

One of Anisa ‘s accomplishments came while she was working for a few years with Homeland Security, trying to get more case workers to clear visa applications and extend temporary protected status for Syrian refugees already here. For the Temporary Protected Status (TPS), Anissa worked with the Secretary of Homeland Security Jay Johnson and Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez to secure TPS extension to Syrian refugees which is currently in jeopardy. When Anissa was working on policy, she could provide a measure for the impact her work was having: the number of dollars being secured, assistance of Syrian American doctors having smooth travels, and streamlining for Syrian American NGOs providing needed aid.

A recent accomplishment is that two studies she conducted were accepted for conferences in Europe, Sweden, and Denmark. The study she will present in Sweden is named Broken Promises: Selective Enforcement of International Law Fueling Surge in Human Trafficking, the case of Syria. And the second study is called Distant Mirrors: Reflections of Authoritative Rule in the Facebook Posting Habits of Syrian Refugees in Europe.

Anisa’s message is, “Find the cause you are passionate about and work towards it and bring attention to it. Respect everyone despite our differences as human beings. Give people their rights, no matter the differences.”

Check out more of Wasan’s articles in our Tales of Diversity section.

Wasan Abu-Baker is an American Activist with a Palestinian Origin. She is the Vice Chair of Corpus Christi National Justice for our Neighbors in Corpus Christi,Texas, a member of ABCD New addition Team, and a staff writer for Kings River Life Magazine in the US. Wasan has also published articles in Muslim Vibes in the U. K., as well as some other newspapers. She is an educator and a teacher who loves teaching Muslim kids Islam and Arabic integrating the arts and helping them build their Islamic identity in the US. Wasan also finished her fellowship with American Friends Service Committee in California and. was on the staff of Fresno interdenominational refugee ministry that serves refugees in Fresno, California when she lived in Fresno. Wasan Earned her masters degree in Special Education and graduated from St. John Fisher College in Rochester, New York.


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