Support for people with disabilities among many needs of Syrian refugees

Rasha lost her left leg in an attack in July 2012 that cost the life of her three young daughters. (European Comission/Handicap International/flickr)

The five-year-old civil war in Syria has left more than 250,000 people dead, displaced some 11 million people from their homes and caused more than 1 million injuries. As international efforts press onward to find a peaceful resolution to the conflict, millions of Syrians are struggling.

Tucked in among those statistics are people suffering from injury, illness or disability who require specialized care, and find themselves far from specialists or in living situations that make day-to-day tasks challenging or impossible.

In a country like Jordan, which is home to more than 600,000 refugees and asylum seekers, the influx of people has taxed already-limited services, said Ingrid Leroy, rehabilitation technical adviser at Handicap International in Jordan, in an interview with Humanosphere.

Handicap International conducted a survey last year and found that 22 percent of Syrian refugees have an impairment and nearly 6 percent suffered a significant injury. Their needs range from ongoing medical care to accessible bathrooms. To meet these needs, various crisis organizations would need to work together to create longer-term programs – and it would require thinking beyond the immediacy of an emergency.

“You may have saved the life of someone who had a stroke, but they need follow-on service,” said Leroy.

The toll on the injured and impaired – as well as their families – is big. With limited opportunities for employment in Jordan, a person in a wheelchair is at a distinct disadvantage when buildings are not easily accessible and refugee camp access ways are not maintained. Handicap International says it is assessing water points, sanitation facilities, registration areas and schools to determine technical needs to increase access for people with disabilities.

More than $7 billion is needed to support the humanitarian response to the Syrian crisis in 2016, according to the U.N. Its historic request is only 4 percent funded, a number that will certainly grow but is unlikely to reach 100 percent.

Groups like Handicap International are responding to the types of issues that get less attention. Leroy also pointed out that chronic disease and psychological needs are other under-addressed areas.

Most of the occupational therapists, social workers and other specialized health workers who support people with specific needs in Jordan are based in the capital city of Amman, said Leroy. Handicap International has currently deployed 370 staff to fill the gaps in the short term. A large part of the work is supporting families as they care for members with injury or impairment.

The issues addressed by Handicap International are a few of many faced by humanitarian groups supporting people in and around Syria. U.N. estimates show that 13.5 million people need humanitarian assistance in Syria. Needs do not necessarily cut across all groups. UNICEF, for example, is using the anniversary of the start of the civil war to draw attention to the 8.4 million Syrian children in and out of the country in need of humanitarian assistance. And the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees is concerned about the conditions experienced by refugees living in countries neighboring Syria and those trying to enter Europe.

Russia’s draw-down of troops and upcoming peace talks provide some hope for a resolution to the fighting in Syria. The size and scope of the current crisis are overextending the humanitarian industry and donor governments. Unaddressed acute needs that are unmet, from education for children to prosthetic limbs for a person injured by a bombing, will have a long-lasting impact on Syria and its citizens.


About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]