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Who Are the Civilians Living in Refugee Camps?


Syrian kids play outside their tents in the Kawergosk refugee camp in northern Iraq, April 8, 2017.


American researcher Kenneth Miller has been working with victims of war for more than 25 years.

Miller is a trained psychologist. In school, he studied the mind and human behavior.

He says most of what has been written about war over the years tells about soldiers and their experiences.

But very little, he thought, was ever written about civilians. So he decided to write a book.

His book, War Torn: Stories of Courage, Love and Resilience, describes the experiences of several civilians, including refugees.

Miller wrote about people like 31-year-old Mustafa Hamed, a Syrian refugee who today lives in Germany.

Hamed tried to cross the border between Syria and Turkey eight times, but was always stopped and sent home. On the ninth try, he made it.

Now, Hamed is working hard to make a life for himself in Germany, but it is not easy.

“The most important thing is you are lost here. You have to find a new job, new friends and you have to find a new life. So this is a new start for me.”

His dream is to get a job in the news media. But first, he has to overcome some of the bad memories he has of living in Aleppo, one of the cities most affected by the war in Syria.

Psychologist and researcher Kenneth Miller reports on the experiences of refugees from several countries in his book "War Torn: Stories of Courage, Love and Resilience."
Psychologist and researcher Kenneth Miller reports on the experiences of refugees from several countries in his book "War Torn: Stories of Courage, Love and Resilience."

Hamed has bad dreams, and remembers bombs exploding nearby.

“You can imagine it was daily, and you can hear every night, bombing someplace near you — maybe for just two kilometers [away]. The electricity was cut down for a long time. So, you have to wait for seven or eight hours just to charge your mobile phone.”

The new book also tells about an Afghan man named Samad Khan. He was a refugee in the 1980s. At the time, Afghanistan was in the middle of a conflict involving pro-government fighters, forces from the Soviet Union, and rebels known as mujahedeen.

While driving on a mountain road, Khan had a terrible accident. Many members of his family died in the crash.

Khan felt guilty about the traffic accident for a long time. But many years later he felt better. He became a leader in his community and seemed happy.

Khan told Kenneth Miller about the accident during a counseling session.

Miller could not believe Khan had recovered so well from such a bad experience.

He said that his family, friends and belief in God helped him get better.

Miller said he included Khan’s story because it seemed to have a lot in common with other refugees from around the world.

“We are more alike than we are different. And his story also captures something we see in a lot of refugee communities. Which is, war, of course, can be devastating, but we are also built to heal. If the conditions are supportive and safe and stable, people have a remarkable capacity to be resilient and to heal."

Miller also wrote about a young man, Emilio, who settled in Canada. He was forced out of Guatemala because of fighting in a village close to where he grew up. He and his family fled the country and went to a refugee camp in Mexico.

Emilio now works as a musician, and is “doing wonderfully well” because of the support he received from his family, Miller said.

Along with family support, Miller identified ways to help refugees feel comfortable in their new surroundings.

He said the refugees need to feel welcome, be offered training in the local language and be given financial support or a chance to work.

If they face discrimination, it will be harder for them to become part of a new society.

"The more people feel marginalized and discriminated (against), of course the harder it is for them to integrate and the harder it is for them to heal."

I’m Dan Friedell.

Faiza Elmasry wrote this story for VOANews.com. Dan Friedell adapted it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

Would you like to learn more stories about refugees and migrants? We want to know. Write to us in the Comments Section or on our Facebook page.

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Words in This Story

psychologist – n. a specialist in the mind and behavior

courage – n. the ability to do something that you know is difficult or dangerous

resilience – n. the ability to become strong, healthy, or successful again after something bad happens

devastate – v. to destroy much or most of (something); to cause great damage or harm to (something)

remarkable – adj. unusual or surprising; likely to be noticed

comfortable – adj. not causing any physically unpleasant feelings; producing physical comfort

sessionn. a meeting or series of meetings; a period set aside for an activity

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