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B’nai B’rith International and IsraAID have launched a training mission in Bulgaria to help meet the mental health needs of Syrian refugees who have fled to Bulgaria. B’nai B’rith is a founding member and active supporter of IsraAID, the Israel Forum for International Humanitarian Aid, which responds to disasters worldwide.

The mission is led by Israeli psychologist Dr. Shlomit Bressler, who arrived in Sofia, Bulgaria, on June 16 to launch a psycho-social training program geared to strengthen the capacities of Bulgarian governmental and non-governmental professionals as they struggle to cope with the mental health needs of the 12,000 Syrian refugees who have found refuge in Bulgaria since the outbreak of civil war.

Trainees in the three, one-week monthly sessions are employees of the State Agency for Refugees and the Bulgarian Red Cross who have direct responsibility for hosting and integrating the refugees.  

The IsraAID mission was sparked after Bulgaria, overwhelmed by the mass of people—primarily Syrian— crossing through Turkey into the country, appealed for international aid, while the United Nations declared a “human emergency” along its border. About 11,000 Syrian refugees inundated the unprepared Bulgaria relief agencies over a short period in late 2013, many taking up residence in deteriorating, overcrowded camps.

IsraAID is the first Israeli-aid organization to assist the burgeoning refugee population in Bulgaria. B’nai B’rith International, the Shai Fund and the American Jewish Committee have partnered with IsraAID to launch this program.

In May B’nai B’rith World Center Director Alan Schneider led a fact-finding mission to Bulgaria, during which the foundation for the training program was laid with the assistance of B’nai B’rith Bulgaria President Solomon Bali.

The mission also provided emergency aid items including food and diapers to urban refugees in the Bulgarian capital Sofia and in refugee camps in Sofia and outlying areas. The mission also conducted meetings with high-level national and local officials responsible for the treatment of refugees and with representatives of non-governmental agency refugee advocates. They also visited two refugee camps where they met with refugees from Syria, Iran, Afghanistan and Somalia.