Skip to main content
European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations

A place of strength

Refugee women in Turkey reflect on the impact of COVID-19 on their lives, and how online mental health support has helped them through the pandemic.

A place of strength 01
© Danish Refugee Council

It has been well over two years since COVID-19 hit the world, and strict lockdowns were introduced in many countries, including Turkey. During that time, the Danish Refugee Council (DRC) launched online activities to support refugee women’s mental health.

“We were suffering from stress and exhaustion because we were always haunted by what we experienced during the conflict,” says Rama, a mother of three in Sanliurfa, southeast Turkey. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), refugees and migrants are more likely to experience common mental disorders such as depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.

The restrictions are lifted now, but the impact of COVID-19 on the economy, employment, and many other aspects of people’s lives continues. Refugees were especially hard hit by the devastating economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.

“After the pandemic, our mental health was completely shattered,” says Selma, who is living in Gaziantep. “I feel as if I am living in a desert. I cannot find a job because I am considered too old. My two sons spend the whole day outside for work, and I stay at home, alone.” 

A place of strength 02
© Danish Refugee Council

Even without lockdowns, many asylum seekers and refugees cannot access mental health services, for example because they don’t speak the language or cannot afford the cost of transportation. Finding and reaching the right support can be even more difficult for women and young girls who were exposed to gender-based violence. 

To respond to these challenges faced by refugees, the DRC’s team held online support sessions to reach women who could not access mental health services in person. The sessions, funded by European Union (EU) humanitarian aid, aimed to promote self-awareness and self-acceptance, build a supportive social network for refugee women, and help them cope with daily stress.

A place of strength 03
© Danish Refugee Council

“It was important for those women to have their own space so they could feel safe and talk about their daily struggles,” says Mirvet, a protection assistant at DRC. “We held the sessions online because the women were not able to reach health services in their areas, also due to the language barriers and the fact that most of them have young children to take care of.” 

The women were encouraged to identify the main sources of stress and develop their interpersonal skills. Initially, they found it hard to express their emotions, but soon learned to open up. “I used to scream at my children for no reason or sleep for long hours,” says Rama. “I did not know those were signs of stress, until I started attending the sessions.” 

During the sessions, the participating women also discussed ways to protect themselves against any form of abuse or psychological harm, and to build their own support networks. “The sessions were really useful,” says Rama. “We are now able to identify the signs of stress and emotional exhaustion, and deal with them.” 

The positive impact of the sessions is far reaching. Many women start to take on proactive, positive roles in their communities, helping to raise others’ awareness on gender issues and the importance of psychological wellbeing.

Many women also report positive changes to their social lives and the way they are perceived both at home and among their peers. They have gained the confidence to prioritise their own needs and letting their unique personalities shine through. 

The shared online experience also creates a bond between the participants, even if they are far from each other. “Sena and I live in different provinces,” says Rama, “but we found out that we have common struggles and we feel relieved when we talk to each other.”

Story by Danish Refugee Council
Publication date: 10/10/2022