Speech by Sigrid Kaag at IV Brussels Conference

Speech by Sigrid Kaag, Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, at the IV Brussels Conference side event. That is on ‘Building the future: the crucial role of young people and mental health and psychosocial support in the Syria crisis response’, on Thursday 25 June 2020

Colleagues and friends, ladies and gentlemen,

For nearly a decade Syrian children and youth have grown up in situations of conflict and displacement. Most Syrian children and youth today have witnessed, heard about or experienced at least one poten­tially traumatic event since the beginning of the conflict in 2011. They report the ongoing bombings and shelling to be the number one cause of psychological stress that they endure in their daily lives. And for the Syrian children abroad, the lack of predict­ability arising from displacement heavily impacts on their sense of psy­chosocial safety. Many of Syria’s children and youth have never had the guarantees that they could build a safe future where they currently live.

COVID-19 add to this uncertainty. Physical distancing is necessary to protect ourselves and each other, but it does not come without challenges, including for our mental health.

It’s especially stressful for people living in conditions where physical distancing is all but impossible.

The current crisis underscores the crucial need for mental health and psychosocial support as part of basic service provision in crises, strengthening human solidarity and social cohesion – even while we’re practising physical distancing.

In Syria and the surrounding region, the pandemic has exacerbated the already harsh economic circumstances. Many young people have lost their incomes, which not only affects their ability to survive and provide, but also to look to the future.

While many of them, after years of displacement, had already lost their livelihoods, homes, communities and loved ones. Sometimes when they were very young indeed.

For displaced children, stability and support are not a given. It takes a village to a raise a child. But what if everyone in that village has been displaced? Providing accessible, basic psychosocial support is vital for young people’s resilience and their recovery throughout a prolonged crisis.

Now, more than ever, it’s important that mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) is integrated into all forms of crisis response in the region. We should use this opportunity to follow up on last year’s international commitments.

Because MHPSS helps young people regain their ability to provide, cope, care, connect and look forward. It helps restore their sense of agency and perspective. And without these young people – without you – we can’t build a better future. You are the future.

We’re looking to build back better, looking to build the future. Young people are an integral part of this and MHPSS can help them on their path. When building the future, young people are laying the bricks, and MHPSS is our cement.

But the fact that young people are the brick layers, does not mean they carry responsibility for the crumbling of the house. They are faced with a daunting reality that others, many others have caused. Syrian youth needs courage, but also, they need our support in addressing the root causes of this conflict.

By the same token, the Netherlands supports the integration of MHPSS in basic services in the Syrian region. Through the Prospects Partnership with UNHCR, UNICEF, WB, ILO and IFC, we are helping the partners to integrate MHPSS in education, protection and employment programming.  In Jordan, for example, we are working with UNICEF and the Ministry of Education on the integration of MHPSS in the classroom, including non-formal education. MHPSS as the cement of young people’s learning path.

This is a topic which is very close to my heart. I’m deeply committed to incorporating MHPSS-inclusive responses in our work on the ground, especially in the Syrian region. Psychosocial safety should also be an important element in all discussions on durable solutions for Syrian displaced. And children and youth should have a voice in these discussions. Which is why I would like to particularly welcome our panel member Abdul Karim Albrem, whose voice is building the future.

All members of today’s panel are policy experts and field workers who work every day to make MHPSS central to our efforts to reach out to young people in Syria.

I have no doubt that the upcoming discussions will be inspiring and constructive. Thank you all for being here and helping us build the future.

Thank you.