Syria: Reaching vulnerable refugees

Confronted by the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Syria, Handicap International is stepping up efforts to help the most vulnerable refugees, especially those permanently or temporarily disabled by the violence.

An estimated 400,000 refugees now reside in Jordan and Lebanon. Many of the newest arrivals have been directly victimized by the fighting, having sustained wounds, lost family members, or had their homes destroyed. While numerous humanitarian groups have been channeling aid to the refugees, those with serious injuries or disabilities and those suffering from mental trauma have had great difficultly accessing the aid and the care they need to recover.

To fill in these gaps, Handicap International, which has been working with Syrian refugees since this summer, has expanded its operations in northern Lebanon, the Bekaa Valley, and along the northwestern border between Jordan and Syria. Teams including physiotherapists, mental health specialists, and social workers have been deployed to identify, assess, and provide care to those most in need.

Physiotherapists provide rehabilitation services to people who have had limbs amputated and need to adapt to a new life with a prosthetic limb. Care is also given to those who sustained immobilizing injuries, such as complicated fractures, which can lead to the development of permanent disabilities.

"Many of the refugees are mentally traumatized by what they have been through," says Thierry-Mehdi Benlahsen, regional coordinator of Handicap International's emergency operations. "It is vital to provide them with a safe space to discuss their experiences and interact with others who have survived similar trauma. We are organizing recreational activities for children and offering counseling to the individuals most in need as well as their families."

The Bekaa Valley is a mountainous region where winters are harsh and temperatures often drop below freezing. Some refugees are not equipped to deal with the cold weather and so Handicap International is distributing kits to help them insulate and heat their shelters.

For other needs that Handicap International does not directly address, the organization links vulnerable people with appropriate service providers and follows up to ensure they receive help. "In situations like this, all refugees are vulnerable, but some are in greater need than others," says Benlahsen. "Most aid organizations try to deliver a broad response that targets as many refugees as possible, but those that require specialized care are often forgotten.

This is why, for example, we worked with the UN in Jordan to ensure that the refugee camps were designed to be accessible to people with disabilities."