Written by Aleema Shivji, Director of Handicap International UK
After much delay, I finally land in Amman, Jordan, on a Monday evening. The delays are due to heavy snowfall — the second big snowstorm in as many weeks to hit the region. The streets are deserted, most of the cars buried in snow and going nowhere anytime soon. It takes us 15 minutes to negotiate the last 40 metres of our journey; the car slides dangerously on the ice as we crawled forward inch by inch.
For the almost 600,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan, the snow comes as another bitter blow in an already desperate situation. Having fled the deadly conflict with what they could carry across the border, many are unprepared for the frigid cold. As refugees, they are unable to work. Without an income, accessing medicine and buying food and warm clothes become all but impossible.
In Jordan, the spotlight is often on Zaatari camp, home to more than 75,000 refugees and one of the largest refugee camps in the world. But with 80 percent of refugees in Jordan living outside the official camps, we also need to shine a light on the hundreds of thousands of Syrians living in urban and rural areas of the country, and the communities that are struggling to host them.
Hidden amongst these numbers are countless injured and disabled people.
After arriving in northern Jordan, one of our outreach teams and I visit Syrian refugees living in host communities. We stop in first to see six-year old Samir. Born with congenital amputations of both his legs, the little boy is unable to walk. His mother explains how she struggled to carry her son across the border into Jordan, as they fled the conflict that is destroying their homeland.
Just one month ago, Handicap International provided Samir with his first pair of artificial legs. Munsaf, our physiotherapist, explains how the little boy was both laughing and crying when he took his first steps. Living on the second floor in a small, cold, sparsely furnished apartment, it’s not difficult to imagine how challenging life had been for Samir and his family before he received his new legs. Today, Samir shows off his progress, proudly climbing the stairs and demonstrating his new-found independence.
Although life for Samir has greatly improved, things are far from easy for his family. His mother explained that she recently had a miscarriage, but has been unable to access treatment. Her refugee card has expired, and the earliest she can get an appointment to renew it is next April. In the meantime, she drinks copious amounts of cinnamon tea, hoping the pain will go away.
We move on to visit another child, this time a young girl. Iraj was only four when she was hit by a sniper’s bullet in Syria. Her parents fled to Jordan with their children. Iraj lost her left leg as a result of her injuries and now walks with an artificial limb provided by Handicap International.
Now six, Iraj tells me how she loves her leg so much she even sleeps with it on. Although she can walk as well as you and me, she has been denied access to school due to her disability. Our project officer Muna explains that she is trying to find another school that will accept Iraj. In the meantime, she shows off her drawing skills to me.
Iraj was out picking flowers when she was shot; the tragedy of her story is not lost on me. What kind of world do we live in when we can sit by and watch innocent civilians die, suffer injuries and violations, and struggle for basic needs like food and medicine?
The Syrian conflict has now been raging for more than 1,000 days. With more than 110,000 lives lost and more than 16 million people affected by this deadly war, something needs to be done, and quickly. The U.N. estimates that $6.5 billion U.S. dollars will be required for the humanitarian system to support these people over the course of 2014.
The world needs to step up to the challenge, to help injured children like Samir and Iraj, other disabled children and adults, vulnerable older people and all the other hidden and forgotten people affected by this deadly crisis. One day hopefully they can return to a normal life. But right now, they need all of us to keep up the pressure in any way we can.
Please act today. Sign and share the petition to help repair the lives and limbs of injured and disabled Syrian refugees.
The names of the beneficiaries featured in this article have been changed for protection.
Photo Credits: Handicap International