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QUSAI BASHIR MASAAMA, 14, DOES NOT REMEMBER MUCH FROM THE DAY A SNIPER SHOT HIM IN HIS HOMETOWN OF DARAA, SYRIA. HE HAD GONE OUT TO BUY CANDY WHEN HE WAS HIT IN THE SPINE. HE SAYS HE PRAYED IN HIS FATHER’S CAR AS THEY RACED TO THE HOSPITAL.

“I REMAINED CONSCIOUS UNTIL I REACHED THE HOSPITAL, WHERE I FAINTED FOR FIVE HOURS,” MASAAMA SAID. HE WAS PARTIALLY PARALYZED, AND NOW USES A WHEELCHAIR.

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ASAAMA IS ONE OF THE 650,000 REFUGEES WHO HAVE FLED THE WAR IN SYRIA AND MADE THEIR WAY TO NEIGHBORING JORDAN, A SMALL LANDLOCKED COUNTRY ALREADY HOME TO 7.5 MILLION PEOPLE. LIKE THE TEEN, THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE STREAMING OUT WAR-TORN NATIONS IN THE MIDDLE EAST ARE ARRIVING IN NEW NATIONS WITH INJURIES AND PHYSICAL DISABILITIES. THEY OFTEN FIND THEMSELVES IN REFUGEE CAMPS THAT ARE ILL-EQUIPPED TO OFFER THEM ANY LONG-TERM PHYSICAL REHABILITATION OR APPROPRIATE PSYCHOLOGICAL SUPPORT.

IN A 2014 REPORT, HANDICAP INTERNATIONAL AND HELPAGE FOUND THAT 1 IN EVERY 15 SYRIAN REFUGEES IN JORDAN HAS SOME TYPE OF INJURY. ALMOST ALL OF THE INJURIES WERE CAUSED BY THE WAR, WITH A MAJORITY DUE TO BOMBING, GUNSHOTS OR SHRAPNEL.

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LTHOUGH JORDAN HAS RATIFIED THE CONVENTION ON THE RIGHTS OF PERSONS WITH DISABILITY, REQUIRING IT TO COLLECT AND DISSEMINATE INFORMATION ON PEOPLE WITH SPECIAL NEEDS AND DISABILITIES, VERY LITTLE INFORMATION EXISTS ON THIS ISSUE IN THE COUNTRY, ESPECIALLY PERTAINING TO REFUGEES. A LACK OF NUMBERS AND FUNDING LEAVES AID AGENCIES SCRAMBLING TO ASSIST THIS ESPECIALLY VULNERABLE SECTION OF THE REFUGEE POPULATION. THE UNITED NATIONS APPEAL FOR AID FOR SYRIANS HAS BEEN CONSISTENTLY FUNDED AT ONLY AROUND 50 PERCENT, EVEN AS THE NEEDS OF SYRIAN REFUGEES AND THEIR HOST COUNTRIES ARE INCREASING DRASTICALLY.
THIS MEANS THAT A LARGE NUMBER OF PEOPLE WITH ISSUES NOT CONSIDERED URGENT, OR THOSE REQUIRING SPECIALIZED EQUIPMENT AND MEDICATIONS, ARE NOT BEING CARED FOR PROPERLY. DR. SHADY KHRAISAT, A GENERAL PRACTITIONER AT A PUBLIC HOSPITAL IN ZARQA, 30 KILOMETERS NORTH OF JORDAN’S CAPITAL, AMMAN, SAID, “THE NUMBER OF REFUGEES WHO COME TO US WITH TRAUMA AND PHYSICAL DISABILITIES IS OVERWHELMING. WE WANT TO HELP, BUT WE ARE UNABLE CATER TO EVERYBODY UNLESS WE GET ADDITIONAL FUNDING.”

HANDICAP INTERNATIONAL’S REPORT NOTES THAT UNTREATED INJURIES CAN LEAD TO PERMANENT DAMAGE. A LACK OF ASSISTIVE DEVICES, LIKE WHEELCHAIRS, MAKE DISABILITIES MORE LIMITING THAN THEY WOULD BE OTHERWISE, AND A LACK OF PROPER MEDICATION CAN LEAD TO A DISABILITY BECOMING WORSE. “SUPPORTING REFUGEES WITH SPECIFIC NEEDS DEMANDS A CHANGE IN THE TYPE OF HUMANITARIAN ASSISTANCE AVAILABLE, AND THE WAY IN WHICH IT IS DELIVERED,” THE REPORT SAID.

THE WAR IN SYRIA SHOWS NO SIGNS OF ABATING, AND THAT MEANS THAT PEOPLE ARE GOING TO CONTINUE TO FLEE THE COUNTRY WITH INJURIES. BUT WHEN REFUGEES RECEIVE PROPER SERVICES AND MEDICAL CARE, THERE CAN BE SOME HOPE. IN APRIL, IBRAHIM AL-HUSSEIN, A SYRIAN ATHLETE NOW IN GREECE, CARRIED THE OLYMPIC FLAME THROUGH A REFUGEE CAMP IN ATHENS. AL-HUSSEIN, WHO WAS A NATIONAL SWIMMING CHAMPION IN SYRIA, LOST A PART OF HIS RIGHT LEG IN A BOMBING FOUR YEARS AGO. USING A PROSTHETIC LEG, HE HAS CONTINUED HIS PASSION FOR THE SPORT AND IS NOW PART OF A WHEELCHAIR BASKETBALL TEAM AS WELL.

MASAAMA TOO HAS HOOP DREAMS. HE HAS STARTED PLAYING BASKETBALL IN JORDAN AND HOPES TO TRAVEL ABROAD FOR TREATMENT AND EDUCATION, SPECIFICALLY TO LEARN NEW LANGUAGES.

“REFUGEES WITH DISABILITIES POSSESS VALUABLE SKILLS, KNOWLEDGE AND EXPERIENCE, AND THEY WISH AND DESERVE TO BE GIVEN THE OPPORTUNITIES TO USE THEM,” THE UNITED NATIONS HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR REFUGEES WROTE IN 2008. “LET US STOP ERECTING — AND START DISMANTLING — THOSE BARRIERS THAT LIMIT THEIR ACCESS AND POTENTIAL.”

AMJAD YAMIN

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