Syrian refugees: Caring for people with disabilities

Mahmoud Shabeeb
A refugee talking to a CARE advisor. In Lebanon and Jordan, CARE has already supported more than 120,000 particularly vulnerable people with cash assistance.

“I want to tell you the story of how I got here,” the 32-year-old woman says with a smile on her face. She likes to call herself Azab, which in Arabic means ‘anguish’. “Please refer to me with this name. It describes my life and my journey,” she says.

I met Azab in a village near Irbid, in the North of Jordan. She lives in a village off the road in a barren apartment that only contains a few mattresses and a TV – the only form of amusement for her siblings, who are 29, 27 and 25 years old. They cannot speak, they cannot walk, and they need help to go to the bathroom.

Unable to flee

Azab’s story begins long before the crisis in Syria started. When Azab was nine years old, her mother died. Five years later, her father remarried and moved to Beirut. He left his oldest daughter Azab behind, and from then onwards she had to take care of her siblings.

“When fighting reached our village my cousin offered to take me in his van and flee with him,” says Azab. “I refused as his only condition was for me to leave my siblings behind. That was impossible! Who and what would I leave them to? To face a cruel fate of starving and convulsing to death?

“He left me saying ‘you stay here with your siblings so you all die’. The moment he started his van and drove off, a bomb hit his car. I saw his car exploding a few metres away from me. I thought to myself ‘God is protecting my siblings and me’.”

The struggle to find food and medication

Without their family’s help, Azab and her siblings stayed in another village for a month or two until fighting escalated there as well. Then they had to leave again. “Sometimes I had to leave my siblings alone for a few hours to seek food for them and myself in a neighbouring village,” she says.

Her brothers and sisters also suffer from seizures and require medication on a daily basis. “We can go without food for a few days, but I cannot cut down on my siblings’ anti-epilepsy medication.”

Safe at last

One of Azab’s brothers had a seizure and died in Syria, because Azab could not get medication for him. “It was only one month before we finally made it to Jordan. The moment I realised that we were in Jordan I threw myself on the ground, kissing it and crying with happiness. I could not believe that we were safe for the first time in more than two years.”

Azab’s life continues to be difficult. Last month, her landlord gave her until the end of the month to move out. CARE helped her find a better apartment in the same village, and she has received emergency cash assistance to pay the first installments of rent.

“I think God sends good people like CARE my way because he knows that I do not have anyone to help me take care of my siblings,” says Azab.

According to Handicap International, one in five Syrian refugees is affected by physical, sensory or intellectual impairment. International Day of Persons with Disabilities (3 December) aims to promote an understanding of disability issues and mobilise support for the dignity, rights and well-being of persons with disabilities. It also seeks to increase awareness of gains to be derived from the integration of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life.

Mahmoud Shabeeb's picture

Mahmoud Shabeeb is Regional Communications Officer for CARE's Syria Response