Farhan Al-Mohammad – Deir Ezzor
“I would very much like to go to school and learn. I can only sit down with my mother’s help. This greatly hinders my life. I want to become a doctor who helps children with illnesses to go to school.” Says Nour, a ten-year-old girl with a mobility impairment in her lower limbs caused by an injury with shrapnel in her back that damaged her spine.
The World Health Organization and the Disabled Peoples’ International Organization mentioned in a report issued at the end of 2017 that “There are thirty thousand injured every month due to the war in Syria. The war has left one and a half million people with permanent disabilities out of three million people injured since the war started more than six years ago”. We could not get any further census from an international organization after 2017. For many years, all conflict parties in the Syrian war have been responsible for this high number of people with disabilities, in addition to killings, displacement, extreme poverty, and multiple violations that affected millions of Syrians.
There is severe neglect of people with disabilities in Syria. Despite their high number, there seems to be a very low level of provided services, care, and response by the organizations and existing authorities controlling various areas of Syria.
We met Nour and her family, a displaced person from the Syrian government-controlled town of Al-Masrab who has lived in Al-Kasrah town since 2017. Her father says: “Noor suffers from a mobility impairment in the lower limbs due to a spinal injury while we were fleeing the shelling in our village. We were in a house waiting for the right moment to escape to a safe area when the warplanes bombed next to the house. Noor got injured by shrapnel in her back. We provided her with simple first aid, but we could not immediately take her to the hospital”.
Noor’s father explained how she received a wheelchair later from the HI Center in the area, sadly saying: “The doctors told me that the delay in medical treatment for Noor caused this disability”.
Ali, a pseudonym for a physical therapist, told us that at the organization’s Al-Kasrah Center, they provide multiple services for people with disabilities. Also, they teach the patient’s parents how to do the necessary exercises and follow the treatment at home on the long term. Ali added: “Our organization has centers in all northern and eastern Syria regions. We have three centers in Deir Ezzor. Basically, we provide physical therapy and psychological support”.
Noor spoke to us with a gentle smile when we visited her at her parents’ house. She was lying in bed in the living room with a pillow behind her to help her sit, surrounded by her siblings: Nisreen, Suha, and Mohammed. Noor said: “I would very much like to go to school and learn. I can only sit with my mother’s help. This greatly hinders my life. My father tells me that school does not suit my health condition because sitting in my wheelchair for a long time exhausts me. We don’t have a lot of money to access private education. But my father and my sister Nisreen always try to teach me. I hope, one day, I can go to school like other kids to complete my education. I want to become a doctor who helps children with illnesses to go to school”.
The mother says: “Nour loves life very much. I always see this in her desire to learn and know about everything new. She became shy after her injury. She felt her life had changed, and she tended to stay silent”.
Nasser, from Al-Sawa village in Deir Ezzor, 38 years old married, and has six children, was shot in the right shoulder during military clashes in his village in 2014. “There were clashes in my neighborhood. I was sitting near my house with my friend that morning when a bullet hit me in my right shoulder. I was immediately taken to the city of Raqqa. I underwent surgery to take the bullet, but I could not move my right hand after the surgery. The doctors told me the nerve was damaged and that I needed a nerve transplant. However, this type of surgery is expensive. Besides, it is not possible to have the surgery here due to the lack of capabilities in the region. It was possible to do the surgery in the capital, Damascus, or Turkey, but I cannot go to Damascus because of the security situation, and the surgery is very expensive. Our financial situation is very bad. I used to work in agriculture and did not learn any other profession. After my injury, I couldn’t work again. Over time, I suffered a deficiency in my right hand, and it won’t get better until I have a nerve transplant”.
Nasser stopped receiving the treatment because he could no longer afford the high expenses. Health organizations and medical centers do not provided support in such cases. Nasser has a cow that his wife takes care of. The whole family relies on this cow to secure its livelihood. Nasser said: “I feel helpless when I can’t provide my children what they need”.
Mr. Ahmed Al-Mohammed, the Head of the General Court of the Social Affairs and Labor Committee of the Deir Ezzor Council, says there is an “office for people with special needs” affiliated with the Committee. He explained to us the attempts of the Committee to count people with disabilities in Deir Ezzor, provide them with cards, and accurately assess their health conditions. Yet, the team working on the project faced great challenges and was eventually forced to temporarily stop issuing cards and search for a better solution to organize the process.
Mr. Ahmed Al-Mohammed added: “The census results confirmed the increase in the number of people with disabilities in Deir Ezzor, especially war injuries. Also, a large portion of newborns suffers from congenital anomalies due to unregulated oil extraction and burning operations, for instance.”
Article 17 of the UN’s Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities states: “Every person with a disability has the right to respect for his or her physical and mental integrity on an equal basis with others”. While article 24 focuses on the right of people with disabilities to access education and reasonable consideration of personal needs.
Articles 25 and 26 focus on health care and physical and psychological rehabilitation opportunities.
Syria has signed this Convention and is bound by it. The existing control powers on the ground and the entire international community are responsible for providing appropriate support to people with disabilities as they can live with dignity and contribute effectively to various aspects of life with the right care and proper rehabilitation foundations.