Voices from the field

Mohamed Elshazly: ‘No one chooses to be a refugee’

Curiosity drove clinical psychiatrist Mohamed Elshazly to work for relief agency Médecins Sans Frontières. He wanted to look at mental health from a community-based psychosocial perspective rather than from the biological viewpoint. At the International Conference on MHPSS in Crisis Situations, 7-8 October in Amsterdam, he co-chaired one of the working groups.

Mohamed Elshazly

When Mohamed switched to the Psychosocial Training Institute in Cairo (PSTIC), a local NGO looking after refugees in Egypt, he found what he was looking for. Mohamed: ‘PSTIC showed more consideration for the social factors and healing powers within affected communities. I feel these resources should always be considered and used in relief efforts.’

Currently, he is the Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) officer with UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. He and his team are mainstreaming mental health interventions within the humanitarian response, taking into account the Rohingya’s cultural background. ‘They’ve rarely had access to mental health services before,’ Mohamed explains. ‘Their cultural backgrounds may – sometimes – impose stigma on mental illness and help seeking behaviour. No one chooses to be a refugee. The hostile language against refugees, especially in protracted emergencies, must stop. Refugees are not responsible for what happened to them, and we must protect and help them.’

Watch the interview Mohamed gave during the conference.