Syrian children with disabilities tell their stories of courage and resilience in Domiz Camp, Iraq
Sarbast, 13, and his father Loqman Ali
Sarbast lost the use of his legs after an illness when he was three, so when he and his family fled to Domiz refugee camp in northern Iraq in October last year, his father had to carry him over three kilometres to cross the border.
He used a wheelchair to get to and from school when he lived in Damascus, but since he and his family came to the camp his father, Loqman, says he only goes outside once a month. Loqman says it is because Sarbast is too shy, but Sarbast insists it is his choice.
He dreams of being cured and becoming a pilot, but neither he nor his father even know the name of his condition. Sarbast is one of seven children.
The situation went from bad to worse in Damascus. War was coming to the suburbs, there wasn’t enough food, and everyone was scared, so we left our home.
I was not happy when I arrived at Domiz camp - it was madness, and crowds, and we had to live with another family for the first two months. They had too many children, and every day I was asking my father when we would go back to Syria. I didn’t think we would stay here.
In the camp I always stay home and use my laptop. Sometimes I play games, but I have also downloaded educational programs so I can learn English. And I watch National Geographic on television, because I want to collect information on everything.
I was very happy going to school in Syria and I had friends there, but I had to leave everything behind. I don’t want to go to school here because it’s too hard for my family to get me to the school and back, but I want to go back to school after I leave the camp.
I don’t want to go outside to play with other kids here - even my neighbours don’t know I live here. I don’t want friends from the camp; I only want my friends from Syria. Luckily I have friends from Damascus who are also here, and they come to visit me. I’m surprised they aren’t here now - every morning I wake up and they are here.
I dream of going to Europe to get treatment, and to be with educated people - people with humanity. I checked on the internet for treatment for my condition in Western countries and it’s easy for their doctors to fix. It might be hard for doctors here, but not in the West.
When I grow up I want to be a pilot. I want to be with the American military because American people are valued, and if one person crashes on an island everyone will come to save them, not like for other countries.
Elham, 8 and her mother, Newshin
Elham, 8, lives with her parents and three siblings, aged from 2 to 10 years, in Domiz refugee camp for Syrian refugees in northern Iraq. Elham cannot walk or talk. She cannot sit, eat or use the bathroom unaided. Her disability set in three days after her birth when she fell ill, says her mother Newshin.
“It was better in Syria,” Newshin says. In Syria, Elham received physical therapy and medication, and both helped her. Here she is always sick and has more fits. She is always weak here. I tried to get tablets for her here, but I couldn’t get what she needs.”
“I can’t even afford to buy her nappies here,” Newshin says.
The whole time I chatted with Newshin, Elham lay silent and limp in her arms. The other children were playful and cheerful, and Newshin tells me they are always “very active”.
“I want to pay more attention to my other three children,” Newshin says. “But Elham takes all my time. I hope she will one day be able to look after herself, even to be able to eat on her own.”
“It takes twice as much energy to keep the house clean here. Only Gulistan [my 10-year-old daughter] helps me. Our house in Damascus was nice, not like here.”
Hassen, 7, and his mother Ableh
Hassen is a lively boy. He can’t walk, or talk, and is painfully thin, but he can wave his arms, roll around and makes noises, all of which his mother, Ableh, interprets for me: “He’s frustrated that he can’t speak”; “He want to go with you to explore the camp.”
“Mentally he’s very alert,” she says.
But since arriving in Domiz refugee camp nine months ago, he has lost a lot of weight, Ableh says. “We cannot afford milk, and he cannot eat, only drink,” Ableh says. In Syria, she says, she made him drinks with dates, nuts and honey, but here there is no money for that.
She shows me a photo of a much chubbier, healthier looking boy.
Hassen tears up tissues as I chat with his mother. “A psychologist told me this was a form of expression as he can’t talk,” she says.
Like many other long-term residents in Domiz, they have a small brick house in place of their tent. People from the host community in Dohuk gave her the money to have the small house built, she says.
Ableh has another child, a three-year-old son, and is five months pregnant with her third child. She tells me her husband has injured his back and cannot work anymore. “We are in very severe circumstances here,” she says.