“It’s our duty to make our voices heard”
Handicap International has been providing support to both displaced Iraqis and Syrian refugees in Iraq since 2014. In Kurdistan, the organisation runs a regional project called “Syrian Disability Representatives”, which aims to foster the emergence of Syrian representatives able to advocate for the rights of people with disabilities or injuries, who have fled the conflict in Syria and found refuge in the region.
Badria and her son at a meeting organised as part of a capacity-building project for Syrians with disabilities and casualties. | © Elisa Fourt / Handicap International
It is a sunny afternoon in Darashakran camp, in Iraqi Kurdistan. More than 10,000 Syrian refugees live here since the camp opened, nearly three years ago. Handicap International runs regular sessions in the camp, as part of its efforts to assist people with disabilities and casualties among Syrian refugees. This initiative aims to help make people’s voices heard through their representatives, in order to advance and advocate for their rights. In a severe crisis, people with disabilities and casualties are often left aside by the humanitarian response, and for Handicap International it is essential to give them the possibility to express themselves and their needs.
In a room made available by the organisation, people from the camp meet to talk about the progress they have made and the initiatives they want to put in place over the coming months. Royaida, 22, coordinates the session. Involved in the project for several years, this young woman, who was planning to become a lawyer in Syria, is now trying to help other refugees who, like herself and her family, have fled their country. She has lived in the camp since 2013 and has seen the situation gradually change. “When the Iraqi crisis began to grow, the organisations who used to come and help us at the beginning started to gather their efforts on the Iraqis. That’s understandable considering the seriousness of the situation, but it also means we have to work hard to ensure that Syrian refugees, especially refugees with disabilities, are not forgotten.”
Badria, 45, appears to share the young woman’s opinion. This mother fled Syria with her disabled son to prevent him being forced to join an armed group: “If we don’t fight for our rights, who will? It is our duty to help people with disabilities and to make our voices heard.” Badria has made helping people with disabilities one of her priorities. She also fights for the rights of Syrian women and for other causes close to her heart.
“A lot of people think that a woman of my age should be spending her days at home, but I don’t agree. I want to do everything I can to improve our lives and our living conditions.” She looks affectionately at her son, whose wheelchair makes it difficult for him to move around the camp: “He’s the one who really motivates me. We’re really the only ones who can understand the problems experienced by people with disabilities here, because they have a big impact on our family lives. My only hope is not to return to Syria, but to do everything I can to help my son and people like him.”
In a corner of the room, Hassan, 41, listens carefully to Badria. This father of two children with disabilities also fled Syria with the hope of giving them a better life. “I feel the same way, I wanted to take part in this project for my children. I wanted to make their voices heard and to show people from our community how much they are suffering. By doing this, I feel like I’m helping my children. Last month, we organised a picnic with other members of the project. Although it might not seem much, my oldest daughter really benefited from it. She interacted with other children and it was great to see a big smile on her face.” Sitting next to his son, Hassan admits that getting involved and advocating for people with disabilities is not always easy. “Sometimes, I want to cry out and tell the world to come and visit us. I want people to understand the conditions we live in here. But the media don’t talk about it and abroad, people don’t understand our problems... But knowing that organisations like Handicap International are concerned about our situation experienced does reassure me. It makes me want to get involved and not give up.”
Badria, Hassan and the other members of the project help make the voice of people with disabilities and casualties heard in the camp, and ensure that the structures operating there take into account the needs of the most vulnerable individuals. The “Syrian Disability Representative” project is currently being implemented in two governorates of Iraqi Kurdistan (Dohuk and Irbil) and other countries affected by the Syrian crisis (Jordan, Lebanon, Syria).