Evaluating Difficulties Syrian Refugees Face through the Framework of Maslow’s Theory of Hierarchy of Needs
The scope and the magnitude of the problems of Syrian refugees pose significant obstacles for international community attempting to meet refugees’ needs. The UN Refugee Agency [UNHCR] informs that Syria, Afghanistan, and Somalia account for 54 percent of all refugees globally with 4.9 million, 2.7 million, and 1.1 million of refugees respectively. Being limited in resources, foreign governments and international organizations focus mainly on refugees’ basic needs such as food, water, shelter, and health care, satisfying emigrants’ fundamental physiological needs, according to Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs. Therefore, the problem of Syrian refugees is significant because the emphasize on gratifying basic physical needs depreciates satisfying what Maslow calls higher needs such as people’s exigencies to develop their full potential as unique human beings, and pursue opportunities for raising self-esteem and achieving self-actualization.
When people leave their homes, jobs, and social networks to save lives, they are immediately faced with challenges such as a lack of food and water and limited access to employment, health care, and education. The majority of refugees are deprived of opportunities to receive psychological help and education and find employment that are important constituents of developing high self-esteem and achieving self-actualization. As Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Theory explains, the necessity to maintain high self-esteem and reach one’s full potential (self-actualization) are higher needs that have to be satisfied in order a person could develop and feel genuinely fulfilled and be happy (Kaur 1062). Furthermore, Maslow’s theory states that higher needs can be gratified only after satisfying lower needs. Hence, considering that Syrian refugees hardly have their basic physiologic and safety necessities met, it is a challenge for them to obtain higher needs for belonging, esteem, and self-actualization.
Syrian refugees, adults and children alike, have to cope with memories of disrupted past, uncertainty and stress related to current problems, and anxiety about the future. Sirin and Rogers-Sirin report that 45 percent of surveyed Syrian emigrant children suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms ten time more frequently than average children (13). This number is not surprising considering that 79 percent of children have experienced death of their family members, 60 percent were exposed to physical violence, and 30 percent were victims of physical assault. Furthermore, children and adolescents reported depression symptoms 7 to 20 times more frequently than their peers in the United States (Sirin and Rogers-Sirin 13). Psychological problems are widespread among adult Syrian refugees as well. For example, Quosh, Eloul, and Ajlani state that continuous insecurity leads to high levels of psychological distress and further increase in people with mental disorders (290). Therefore, the anxiety about survival and having basic necessities met deprives Syrian emigrants of opportunities to satisfy what Maslow identifies as higher needs.
Another challenge that Syrian refugees have to deal with is education. O’Rouke claims that 52 percent of Syrian refugees are children and adolescents under the age of 18. The author states that many of refugee children have missed two or more years of school and are unable to reenroll in schools in their host countries. O’Rouke explains that, although international laws have numerous provisions for protecting children’s right to education, these laws cannot compel wealthy nations to expand access to education for Syrian child refugees (O’Rouke). In addition, the number of refugee children surpasses the capacity of many countries-recipients such as Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey to provide educational opportunities. According to estimates of the United Nations, more than half of Syrian refugee children do not attend schools (Sirin and Rogers-Sirin 8). Therefore, Syrian emigrants have to tackle a problem of the lack of educational availabilities for their children. Since education can be considered one of the keys to higher self-esteem and self-actualization, the deficiency of education options is an obstacle that might prevent refugee children from achieving self-actualization during their entire lifetime.
Another formidable impediment to satisfying higher Maslow’s needs is a difficulty with obtaining admissions into foreign countries for permanent residence where refugees can find employment, grow professionally, and become the self-realized individuals to the extent they can become. Many countries are reluctant to accept refugees for resettlement. For example, among 4.5 million of Syrians who fled their country, the US officially admitted only 2,700 refugees (Griswold). There are several explanations why countries accept low numbers of refugees. For example, some countries have very complex procedures for determining eligibility of applicants for citizenship. Other countries (Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and Egypt) have huge emigrant populations and lack resources, including potable water, to sustain more refugees (Bidinger et al 1). Finally, some other countries are simply reluctant to provide refugees with the asylum. Therefore, Syrian refugees cannot satisfy their higher needs and achieve self-actualization because their current environment in refugee camps is suitable mainly for gratifying only basic physiological necessities. Consequently, since their psychological and educational requirements are hardly met, it becomes more and more problematic to meet their higher needs.
Maslow’s Theory of the Hierarchy of Needs states that higher psychological needs such as the need to be respected, maintain self-esteem, and achieve fulfillment and self-actualization are contingent on one’s psychological health, education, and opportunities for developing and releasing one’s inner potential. However, psychological problems, limited educational opportunities, and challenges of obtaining admissions to protected countries where citizens can develop their potential are major obstacles on the way to achieving high self-esteem and self-actualization among Syrian refugees. Finally, it should be noted that the aforementioned complications are critical since they condemn millions of emigrants and their children to leading pitiful existence and surviving instead of living satisfying lives.
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