June 16, 2021
For the last 15 years in Sweden, millions of refugee children with traumatic experiences have been affected by the Resignation Syndrome. It’s a state of worldly withdrawal resembling a coma that can sometimes last for years. During the first stage, the children with Resignation Syndrome stop talking much and just want to lie down, then eat less and less until the final stage, where they completely stop eating, drinking water and interacting with their environment in general. This Syndrome was observed during the years 2003-2005 and it was something unknown to the scientific community. The refugees who developed it appear to have come from specific regions, such as the Balkans, the former Soviet Union, the Southern borders of Russia or they belonged to certain minorities, something that’s difficult to explain.
The fact that there are more cases of this Syndrome in Sweden, compared to other countries, is inexplicable (the last 3 years more than 200 cases have been noted). Scientists speculate that perhaps cultural factors existing solely in Sweden are to blame, such as the legislative framework of the asylum procedure the refugees are required to go through. Refugee children are often aware that the asylum process is pending and their future is at stake. This intensifies their uncertainty and the feeling of insecurity, something that especially after a traumatic period which led to a forced escape or expulsion, is essentially harmful for the child’s health. Having in mind that post-traumatic recovery is based on security, the fear they may be asked to return back to these harmful conditions, exacerbates their already strained psychological state. Recovery comes mainly when the family feels secure and this happens gradually, as it takes a few months until improvement is noticed. It appears that recovery depends on the restoration of hope, often conveyed by the parents (for instance, in many cases parents read the decision of residence permit and confirm that everything is going to be okay in the future).
The moment the children are in a coma and have practically withdrawn themselves from the environment, the rest are obliged to keep on living their life, both their own and their children’s bodies. The parents take charge of being the brain that coordinates everything, for a body that is in a comatose state and can no longer take initiatives. They’re the ones who take over the food, the digestion, the cleaning and the maintenance of the muscles in an active state, so that they don’t atrophy. In addition to the above, they must provide the children, when they suffer from Resignation Syndrome, with an environment that can cultivate a sense of security and optimism, so that they can return to an active lifestyle. This can be achieved through good communication, which is in turn formed through the tone of voice, gentle touch, the atmosphere of the room where the children can sense, despite their comatose state, that their parents are safe and optimistic. The paradox here, however, is that the parents are called upon to take such a role, while what they are feeling internally deviates greatly from the feelings of security and hope. One could say that what the surrounding people of the Syndrome’s patients experience is much harder. The children are “self-protecting” by falling into a coma, since it seems as if their body chooses to “sleep” and withdraw itself until their world improves. They lie in bed for months, just like Snow White in the fairytale, and they wait for the prince, who in this case symbolises the feeling of security. On the other hand, the parents have to, simultaneously, patiently deal with their child’s illness, as well as the unstable living conditions of the entire family which is threatened with expulsion from the host country, in case their residence permit is not renewed.
In conclusion, this is a particularly worrying phenomenon, which raises sensitive issues regarding asylum, and the feelings of insecurity and fear that accompany it. Of course, this doesn’t mean that Resignation Syndrome is the norm and that every refugee child will suffer from it. Many refugee children completely adapt to the host country and ensure a dignified and beautiful life. What is worth noting, however, on the occasion of this Syndrome is the value of mental stability and security that every child, and every human in general, needs in order to survive and stay alive.
Sources: Aviv, R. (2017). the Trauma of Facing Deportation. The New Yorker. Netflix Documentary, “Life Overtakes Me”
Translated by Maro Karipsiadi Reviewed by Kyriaki Arnaouti
Photography by Sotiris Stamatiou & Eleni Santoli
Born in the small but heroic Mesologgi. She studies Psychology in Aristotle University, but outside of it she tries to combine it with dancing. She loves travelling, even though she’s far from her goal to travel the entire world. Her favourite word is “try.”
Law student at AUTH but will definitely break Monopoly rules. Her favourite form of expression is music and she believes that anything is possible if you work hard for it, unless you want a bite of her burger.
Born a Drama queen, both literally and figuratively. Her mind is constantly switching back and forth between Greek, English and Spanish but her heart is set on two things only; iced coffee and books. Her Sagittarius nature convinces her that she’s the funniest person alive, but that’s for you to discover!