Radical change needed for older, disabled and injured Syrian refugeesRead more
Takoma Park, Maryland — With the U.S. and other nations planning military interventions in Syria, Handicap International stresses that the population must have access to humanitarian aid. The organization also calls on all parties to the conflict to respect the international ban on the use of cluster munitions or any other indiscriminate weapons.
The Syrian conflict has been marked by a severe lack of access to affected populations. The UN estimates that more than 100,000 people have been killed and 4.25 million people have been displaced from their homes in Syria. These statistics do not take account of all the victims, as humanitarian actors cannot gain full access into the country. Outside Syria, the UN has registered more than 1.9 million Syrian refugees, and estimates that one million children are among them.
“There has been no let up for the Syrian people, war is their day-to-day life, with no respite and no alternatives,” said Thierry-Mehdi Benlahsen, Regional Emergency Response Coordinator for Handicap International. “Our team and our partners, working with refugees in Lebanon and Jordan, as well as inside Syria itself, have witnessed the ordeals these families, who have no hope, are put through. The most vulnerable people—people with disabilities, elderly people, pregnant women—are the worst affected by the shortage of humanitarian aid.”
Even when attempting to flee, Syrians fall victim to the fighting. This was the case for Najah, a 16-year old Syrian girl hit in crossfire while trying to cross the border into Lebanon. Now a paraplegic, she is supported by Handicap International’s teams.
Handicap International has been working with the victims of the Syria conflict in Lebanon, Jordan and Syria, since June 2012. It provides assistance to the most vulnerable populations, providing specific assistance such as physical therapy and psychological support, and ensuring they can access other humanitarian aid.
To prepare refugees for their eventual return to Syria, Handicap International has also conducted munitions risk education. Staff meet with refugees in camps and host communities to teach them about the dangers of the explosive weapons left over from conflict—how to identify them, and how to react if they encounter dangerous devices.
In a separate statement on August 28, Handicap International urged the U.S. government to keep the protection of civilians in sharp focus and to avoid any use of cluster munitions. Reports suggest the U.S. Navy could use Tomahawk missiles to strike Syrian targets, missiles which can be fit with the deadly BLU-97 cluster munition.
About Handicap International
Handicap International is an independent international aid organization which has been working in situations of poverty and exclusion, conflict and disaster for over 30 years. Working alongside people with disabilities and vulnerable populations, we take action and raise awareness in order to respond to their essential needs, improve their living conditions and promote respect for their dignity and fundamental rights. Since its beginnings in 1982, Handicap International has gone on to work in more than 60 countries worldwide and has worked in numerous emergency situations. There are 8 national associations in the Handicap International network (Germany, Belgium, Canada, USA, France, Luxembourg, UK and Switzerland) working constantly to raise funds, co-manage projects and promote the organization’s principles and actions. Handicap International was co-recipient of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize as a one of the six founding members of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBM) which led to the signing of the Mine Ban Treaty and winner of the Conrad N. Hilton prize in 2011. Handicap International works and tries to promote action wherever people struggle to “walk tall”.
Takoma Park, Maryland — As President Obama weighs the possibility of launching strikes on Syria following the Syrian government’s alleged use of chemical weapons, Handicap International urges the United States government to avoid any use of cluster munitions.
For more than three decades, Handicap International has witnessed and responded to the devastation wrought by cluster bombs. Designed to break open in mid-air, cluster bombs release hundreds of bomblets, or submunitions, over an area that can be as large as several football fields. When submunitions explode, they fire hundreds of fragments of metal that travel at the speed of a bullet. Not only are cluster munitions indiscriminate weapons that kill and maim innocent men, women, and children when deployed, but many submunitions fail to explode on impact and become de facto landmines that continue to pose a fatal threat to civilians decades after conflict has ended.
An August 27 New York Times article noted that any U.S. strikes “are expected to involve scores of Tomahawk cruise missiles launched from American destroyers in the eastern Mediterranean Sea…” Tomahawk missiles can carry different types of payloads—including cluster submunitions. One particular missile model type—which has been reportedly used by the U.S. in Afghanistan, Iraq, Serbia, Sudan, and as recently as 2009 in Yemen—can carry a payload of 166 BLU-97 cluster bomblets.
“Make no mistake: a BLU-97 cluster bomb is not a targeted weapon, and the submunitions that fail to detonate will haunt Syrians for years after the conflict ends,” said Elizabeth MacNairn, Executive Director of Handicap International-US. “Such unexploded bomblets, which look like toys to children and can tempt those searching for valuable scrap metal, will result in death and disabling injuries.”
The U.S. is not a States Party to the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions an international treaty signed by 112 countries banning the use, production, transfer, and stockpiling of cluster munitions.
Handicap International is an impartial aid organization, and does not make comment on whether or not the U.S. should take military action. However, MacNairn noted that any use of cluster munitions would “put the very Syrians the U.S. is hoping to protect in serious danger. A full recovery in Syria would be stalled until all unexploded bomblets could be cleared—a careful, dangerous process that would take years to complete.”
About Handicap International
Co-winner of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize, Handicap International is an independent international aid organization. It has been working in situations of poverty and exclusion, conflict and disaster for 31 years. Working alongside persons with disabilities and other vulnerable groups, our actions and testimony focus on responding to their essential needs, improving their living conditions, and promoting respect for their dignity and basic rights. Since 1982, Handicap International has set up development programs in more than 60 countries and intervenes in numerous emergency situations. The network of eight national associations (Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States) works constantly to mobilize resources, jointly manage projects and to increase the impact of the organization's principles and actions. Handicap International is one of six founding organizations of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, and winner of the 2011 Hilton Humanitarian Prize. Handicap International takes action and campaigns in places where “standing tall” is no easy task. Handicap International has been working with Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Jordan since the summer of 2012. www.handicap-international.us