Returned from Al Hol / Children rescued from bullets, but not from media abuse

Author: Ardit Hoxha

On the 27th of October of last year, Floresha Rasha was repatriated from the Al Hol camp in Syria together with her 4 children. Good news that for almost one week got all the attention of the public opinion. The visit of the Prime Minister and some senior state leaders in Syria, accompanied by some journalists, brought to the eyes of the Albanian public a shocking view of the camp where the hostages of the “Islamic State” (ISIS) war are being held. But strong images were not only those that came from the “Al Hol”camp, but also from the airport of Rinas and this time the protagonists were the children taken out of that camp. It was Floresha Rasha with her children A. Rasha, E. Rasha and H. Rasha as well as the other child, ED, who despite the trauma they had gone through in the camp for several years, presented themselves to the Albanian public as some “victims” who were saved from “Al Hol’s Hell”.

The first to publish the footage was the Prime Minister, Edi Rama. The videos and photos of the children were then broadcast on all televisions and online media in the country without censoring the children’s faces.

                   Photo from the video published by Prime Minister Rama on Facebook

These images that made the rounds of the Albanian media for days, with chronicles and even numerous broadcast programs, raise another very serious problem. The psychological damage and consequences that these children in particular, but also Floresha Rasha, can suffer due to exposure in the media in that bad psychological state.

Media exposure can slow down the rehabilitation of children …

According to experts in the field, psychologists who constantly deal with the trauma and psychological problems of children, media exposure for those children can cause a range of problems, from slowing down rehabilitation to worsening the condition.

Psychologist Denada Toçe showed us some of the problems of this media exposure of those children without any kind of protective filter that can slow down their rehabilitation. According to her, the risks that threaten the mental health of those children are numerous and should be taken into account by the state authorities. “Juveniles who return from a camp carry a history that is not only inhuman, but also delicate in relation to the information they carry. The story of the children was known by journalists and those involved from the beginning of this event, instead of the goal being to escape from a dangerous environment, and right after this rehabilitation of the children, this professional confidentiality was broken from the beginning. They were betrayed, several times. And this time they felt it. The loss of trust and insecurity for the people and the world that was already between them did not subside at any moment from their arrival. In those first days or weeks, this media attention, without any ethical care to protect the rights of children, their psycho-emotional state, their mental state, created an overlap and delays in the rehabilitation of the children”, explains the psychologist.

The psychologist Lediona Braho also says that appearing in the media in that form, for those children can slow down the rehabilitation process, but possibly also worsen their condition. “It is possible that the media exposure of victims in general, can cause their re-traumatization, adding psychological stress only by the fact of making it visible to the public. This effect is also known in the literature, so it is always suggested to protect victims in front of the public. The effects of this potential re-traumatization resulting from media neglect can be momentary, but even more prolonged in time (especially if children are not treated appropriately). Their appearance in the media has re-exposed them by not respecting their right to privacy and protection. The media should have been much more sensitive in this regard”, says psychologist Braho.

Meanwhile, the specialized psychologist for children, Aurela Agalliu, expresses the concern that a careless treatment for those families, after what they have gone through in the “Al Hol” camp, may turn into a boomerang. “We must emphasize that staying in Al Hol camp is a traumatic period for these children, but not only. Exposed to violence, weapons, events which in the second worldview cause many distortions in behavioral patterns, leave terrible psychological consequences. Their media coverage is absolutely as harmful as it risks them for a possible re-victimization”, declares Agalliu.

Photo of the mother’s meeting with E. D after his return by Al Hol and from the video published by Prime Minister Rama on facebook

While the representative office in Albania of the child protection organization “Save the Children”, approached by the Albanian Center for Quality Journalism about this case, raises the concern that the images of children who have lived in conflict, may deepen their trauma. “Images of children who have gone through contexts of conflict, tragedy and natural disaster can be powerful advocacy, but at the same time they can deepen the trauma and jeopardize their protection, integration and future if left untreated. in the right way”,  notes Save the Children.

The organization considers the case of those children as very convenient to be kept under control with constant psychological help to see their reaction and how they will adapt to the social reality in Albania, which is totally different from the one they left after in Syria. “Children trapped in Syria are innocent victims of the conflict and should be treated as such. They have lived through conflicts, bombings and denied freedom. They need specialized help to be rehabilitated from their traumatic experiences and return to normalcy, which is impossible in refugee camps in critical war zones”. In every effort to protect, repatriate, integrate and inform children, the highest interest of children must prevail and be respected, continues Save the Children.

Children in Al Hol camp – Photo Achilleas Zavallis The Guardian

UNICEF ALBANIA also described as very important the rehabilitation process through which these children must go after repatriation. At this point, according to UNICEF, media treatment has a special role. “The UNICEF office in Tirana congratulates the return of some Albanian children to the country. This is great news! Despite this commendable achievement, the safety and well-being of other Albanian children, some of whom are orphans, who continue to stay in Al-Hol camp and other conflict-affected areas, should not be forgotten. The physical and psychological recovery and social reintegration of children may require tireless time and effort, so UNICEF expresses its readiness to support the Government of Albania in achieving this goal. In addition, we call on the media and journalists to guarantee maximum ethics and care, so that the race for sensational news does not shock or traumatize children even more“, it is said in the statement given by the representation of UNICEF in Albania.

How should they be treated …

A guide to the basic principles for ethical reporting on children developed by UNICEF states that the best interests of the child – the right of children to dignity, respect, protection and participation are the basic criteria that determine which images should be used and how they should be used. There are six basic principles that UNICEF advises to consider before reporting on children:

  1. The dignity and rights of every child must be respected in all circumstances.
  2. When interviewing and reporting on children, special attention should be paid to all children’s rights to privacy and confidentiality, to be heard, to participate in decisions affecting them, and to be protected from harm; and punishment, including the possibility of injury and punishment.
  3. The best interests of every child must be protected at all costs, including support for children’s issues and the promotion of their rights.
  4. When trying to determine the highest interests of children, the right of children to have their views taken into account should be given special importance in accordance with their age and maturity.
  5. Persons who are closer to the situation of children and more able to assess it, should be consulted about the political, social and cultural scope of reporting.
  6. Do not publish a story or image that could endanger the child, relatives or friends, even when identities have been altered, hidden or not used.

In this line, the experts in response to questions sent by the “Albanian Center for Quality Journalism” emphasize that before the children were exposed to the media in that condition, they should have been consulted by psychologists and experts in the field. Denada Toçe says that the first people those children had to meet after leaving the camp were psychologists and social workers. “This was not a telefilm, but a true story that should be consumed in complete intimacy between family members. From the beginning, social professionals should take care of them, social workers should take care to protect the children from the many stressors and until the day they are ready for a public exposure, dedicate themselves to exactly this care”, explains Toçe.

While Aurela Agalliu is of the opinion that the data and identification of children should be censored. “Such news is really good, but the media would do well to broadcast it censored, and in such cases not a single piece of information should be disclosed about these children or their families”, the specialist emphasizes.

The following treatment …

The four children together with Floresha Rasha, upon their arrival in Albania were treated in a rehabilitation center, to enable them to overcome the trauma they have gone through in Al Hol. The center, according to what the Prime Minister stated on October 27, is one of the elements of the plan that the Albanian government had prepared in advance regarding the treatment of children and then their integration into the wider social environment. “The decision to enter the territory was made at the right time but we should have been ready beforehand and the structure is ready for children who will be repatriated with psychologists, teachers and doctors and will cooperate with relatives to see the progress, and then their inclusion in other social structures”, stated the Prime Minister Edi Rama a few days after the children arrived in Albania.

However, psychologist Denada Toçe suggests that their psychological treatment in the future should also take into account the damage that may have been caused to them by media exposure at the time of repatriation. At this point, she has these suggestions for those children, but also for Floresha Rasha. “Behavioral cognitive therapy is one of the most advisable therapies for post-traumatic stress disorder. Even the new BËRT therapy approach is thought to be one of the new, fast-paced approaches to trauma intervention“. Personally, I think that staying in a quiet environment, with as little stress as possible, with the reunification of family members, a key factor in ensuring this peace, will be the main elements of their rehabilitation”, she says.

For Lediona Braho, starting rehabilitation therapy should be unique to each child, based on the different needs that everyone has. “There are different types of therapies that can be offered, mainly trauma-focused therapies, thoughts and behaviors. Prior to therapy, an assessment of each child’s resources and needs should be made and then the most appropriate therapy should be decided, depending on the context and capacities of each family. An individual approach focusing on the child’s need, reproducing the trauma with the help of a psychologist to help him rehabilitate and return to normal, can be combined with a family approach, to strengthen the natural environment and important people in the child’s life”, she emphasizes.

While the psychologist Agalliu says that during the treatment the religious indoctrination that those children have received at a very young age should not be neglected. “Such cases need alternate therapies and this should be done by setting up a team of multidisciplinary professionals to carry out appropriate interventions in the social, psychological, physical, physical and educational side”. One form of therapy and one treatment by a psychologist alone is not enough for such cases as the way in which their beliefs and behavioral patterns are induced in traumatic circumstances affect many aspects which have affected their psychological well-being, he underlines.

“Al Hol” Camp – Photo: AFP

From the state authorities, there is still no fixed data on the number of Albanian children still in the “Al Hol” camp in Syria, but Bedri Elezi, director of the Institute for International Studies in Kosovo, during an interview with the newspaper “Si” spoke for a number of 53 children and women who are in the Kurdish-guarded camp in northern Syria. In total, according to Elez, there are 144 Albanians still being held in this camp, which is the largest in Syria after the dissolution of the military formation of what called itself the Islamic State (ISIS).

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