Syria Refugee Crisis: Ensuring None are Left Behind


During disasters and crises, there is often a huge access gap between humanitarian aid and people with disabilities and injuries, pregnant women, and isolated and older people. Humanitarian organizations may be distributing food, medicine, and other items, but the most vulnerable refugees are often unable to reach distribution points.

In Jordan since the end of 2012, Handicap International’s Olivia Biernacki helps improve access to humanitarian aid for these refugees in particular. “Our goal is to make sure that …  no one is left behind,” she says. Biernacki is a member of Handicap International’s 250-person emergency team responding to the Syria crisis.

“Depending on the situation, we intervene directly, by providing rehabilitation care and psychosocial support, or by distributing the essential non-food items at our disposal,” says Biernacki. Handicap International also directs people to services that can help them and provides them with support “until we’re sure the situation has improved.”

Biernacki monitors changes in the living conditions of refugees and the impact of humanitarian aid. “When a woman, who has lost both of her legs in a bombing raid, is given a wheelchair and can buy food at the market again and look after her children, it really changes her life,” she says. “We witness a lot of pain and suffering. The war is raging just a few miles over the border and the people we meet are often still extremely traumatized by their experience … Once you’ve witnessed that, doing nothing is not an option.

“The needs are so great … Unless we do it, no one else will take care of people with disabilities, and many injured people will develop permanent disabilities simply because they haven’t received enough care.”

According to the UN Refugee Agency, some 8,000 Syrians are fleeing their country every day to seek safety abroad. Handicap International’s teams reach out to Syrian refugees living in camps or Jordanian communities, where many rent a few square meters of an apartment or garage. This work has yielded promising results. “Word of mouth works really well,” says Biernacki. “We get calls directly from people who need our help and from service providers with whom we have formed very strong ties.”

The humanitarian relief effort has to reflect both changes in people’s needs and the resources supplied by international funding bodies. “In practical terms, if a family is having problems paying rent, we need to be able to point them towards an organization that can provide them with financial support or identify other shelter options,” she says. “The most vulnerable people need more than direct aid and we form a link between refugees and the complete range of humanitarian aid open to them. People are extremely grateful for this type of assistance.”