Some Lessons on War and Forced Displacement

Lessons from our SSHB conference on The Human Biology of Poverty, held in Lisbon earlier this month. Thanks to Ines Varela Silva for putting together a great conference in a beautiful country.

This is not a complete list, but a copy and paste of some of the highlights from our session: 


  • War and forced displacement: Embodiment of conflict-related experiences (Patrick Clarkin)
  • Female minor refugees: Are they underprivileged by forensic age estimation? (Bianca Gelbrich)
  • War and its effect on the changes in lifestyles: a case of Croatia (Sasa Missoni)
  • Secular trends of somatic development in Abkhazian children and adolescents for the last decades (Elena Godina)
  • Do stress biomarkers track poverty, stress, and trauma? Evaluating war-affected youth (Amelia Sancilio)
  • Refugees in Portugal: What do we know? (Cristina Santinho and Ines Varela-Silva)
  • Poster: Maya Guatemalan children in refugee camps in Mexico. How bad is their growth status? (Aya Ueno, Barry Bogin, Faith Warner and Ines Varela-Silva)

Summary of the session

Below are some reasons why our research is important and how it is relevant  for the public in general.

Question: Why should the general public, and governments, care about these types of projects?

What we did during this impact session: We have documented some of the underappreciated forms of suffering that occurs in people under conditions of war and forced displacement.

Key points:

  • While every war is unique, the general public is aware that war causes destruction, death, as well as injury and mental stress in survivors. However, general public may not be aware that war and forced displacement may also harm child growth, diet, education, affect body composition, immune function, chronic diseases, identity loss, depression, skeletal development, and reproduction. 
  • Once refugees arrive in their new host countries, if they are not given adequate economic opportunities, or are not properly supported financially and socially, their suffering will continue. This creates further problems not only for them, but also for their host society.
  • The general public in the EU is probably also unaware of the large variance in the conditions that refugees face in their host countries.
  • The health conditions of refugees and asylum seekers are often presumed to stem from their country of origin, but the variance in how they are treated across the EU can be overlooked.
  • It should be considered a task of high priority to establish international standards for refugee assistance. Since the resources of the EU countries are very different, the EU should provide sufficient support in guaranteeing the material basis for comparable standards.
  • One of our presenters discussed a study on Syrian refugee children in Jordan, which showed that an intervention project had real benefits in reducing bio-markers associated with stress. This is quite promising news, although long-term effects are still unknown, and it remains to be seen if such interventions are able to be replicated.
  • Finally, these forms of suffering can linger for decades after a war’s official conclusion, and should be tallied into the total costs of war and forced displacement, which go far beyond casualty statistics and resources invested into. military conflict. In sum, as the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.


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