When Sores Turn into Wounds on the Refugees’ Long Road to a Better Life

How thanks to CRWB and UNICEF a refugee girl received the health support she needed

Radostina,да, Council of Refugee Women in Bulgaria
Лилиан - момиче бежанка, полуила подкрепата на Съвета на жените бежанки в България
Съвет на жените бежанки в България
23 December 2020

Zahra, 36, arrived in Bulgaria a little more than a month ago, with her family. Born in Syria, the young woman had already been through a lot of hardships on her way here. Looking for a better life, away from the horrors of war, Zahra, together with her husband, Ahmed, and their three daughters and one son, left her home because of the armed hostilities there.

"It hasn’t been an easy journey. We knew it was very dangerous to cross the border and we were very scared we might not survive," says Zahra.

Preoccupied about their children’s life, the parents did not notice a little sore on the foot of their daughter Lilan. The 13-year-old had been in pain for a long time, but the existential threats had pushed the feeling of discomfort to the back of everybody’s mind.

As they arrived in Turkey, the family stayed for a while with some relatives and Zahra managed to find a doctor, who recommended treatment for her daughter that would last for a certain period of time. Shortly after that, Zahra and her husband and children were on the road again, and Lilan’s treatment was interrupted.

Лилиан - момиче бежанка, получила подкрепата на Съвета на жените бежанки в България
Съвет на жените бежанки в България

"Sometimes it hurt me as I walked, but I would say to myself that I was perhaps too tired or that the shoes pinched my feet. When you are on the road and you have to hide in the bushes, you don’t have much time to think about what causes you pain, all you care about is saving your life"

- Lilan says

The family arrived in Bulgaria and was placed in a refugee centre. In a situation of Covid-19, the need for special support and humanitarian assistance took Zahra and her family to the office of the Council of Refugee Women in Bulgaria (CRWB). The organization has kept its doors open throughout the pandemic. In strict compliance with the anti-epidemic guidelines, the CRWB team has been providing continued consultation and support to refugees and their families.

"The past few months have been a serious challenge for the social workers and the cultural mediators. There has been a significant increase in the number of refugees and asylum seekers asking for help, while the cases become increasingly complex. More and more people are becoming unemployed and unable to buy food for their children or to pay the rent for the homes they live in. Symptoms of mental disorders like anxiety, depression, as well as cases of family violence, are becoming increasingly common"

- says Radostina Belcheva, the CRWB Deputy Chair.

"While providing consultations on various cases in the daily practice, the team of the Council of Refugee Women in Bulgaria prepares thorough and systematic assessment of the needs and vulnerabilities of refugees and asylum seekers, including their needs with regards to the medical status. The objective is to make sure that the refugees receive comprehensive support, including psychosocial assistance and referral to specialized care, where necessary. We also aim to increase these people’s awareness of the availability of state-led health care in Bulgaria as well as their literacy on a range of health-related subjects, such as vaccines, breastfeeding and nutrition for infants and young children. These services are provided within the framework of the project ‘Strengthening Refugee and Migrant Children's Health Status in Southern and South-Eastern Europe’, funded by the European Union's Health Programme (2014-2020)”

explains Diana Yovcheva, Refugee and Migrant Children Programme Officer at UNICEF Bulgaria.

Zahra has shared with the CRWB social worker about the hurdles her family had been forced to overcome along the way. Her daughter’s wound, which still hasn’t healed, had become somehow less important during the journey. Zahra recalls that the sore first appeared on the foot while they were still in Syria, but it wasn’t particularly big. Recently, however, the sore had been growing into an open wound, the pain had intensified, forcing the girl to restrict her movements. Zahra was concerned about her child, but she believed that the deterioration was due to the constant wearing of shoes and the long periods of walking.

"I knew that because of all the suffering they’ve been through, these people are inclined to ignore their health issues, especially when girls are concerned. That is why I insisted to check out the wound.

My first thought was that this was a severe infection which made a visit to the doctor an urgent necessity,"

says Teodora Koleva, a social worker with CRWB.

The lack of documents from the previous treatment further complicated the situation of Lilan. With the support of a social worker, Zahra understood the need for an urgent examination of her daughter. Zahra’s husband initially ignored the recommendation, but later went with his family to an emergency room at the nearest hospital. After several referrals to different medical establishments, Lilan finally obtained an appointment for an examination at an infectious diseases’ clinic. Tired of running from one hospital to another, the father, who had been desperately looking for a job in order to pay the family bills, refused to join his wife and daughter because at the time of the appointment he had a scheduled interview with a potential employer. So, Zahra was once again forced to postpone taking care of her daughter Lilan’s health. A few days later, when Ahmet got the job, Zahra once again called the social worker and, together with her husband, made time for a visit to the doctor’s office. It didn’t work out again, this time because the clinic was quarantined due to Covid-19.

The team of CRWB continued to keep in contact with Zahra and managed to arrange another appointment for Lilan at the same clinic. After days of trying in vain, the girl ultimately got the medical care she needed. She had all the tests done and was prescribed the treatment appropriate for her condition. Lilan is now feeling better and the wound on her foot is beginning to heal, albeit slowly.

 "To make sure it heals completely, the parents must take proper care and make deliberate effort to follow the doctor’s orders. This is particularly hard to do in a pandemic, but we remain at the frontline, available to provide consultations and information to refugees and asylum seekers and facilitating their access to health care in Bulgaria. Our partnership with UNICEF enables us to be prepared and flexible in providing the necessary support to our people of concern."

says Linda Awanis, Chairperson of the CRWB.

DG Health

This publication is part of the Project Strengthening Refugee and Migrant Children’s Health Status in Southern and South Eastern Europe, Co-funded by the Health Programme of the European Union.

The content of this publication represents the views of the author(s) only and is his/her sole responsibility; it cannot be considered to reflect the views of the European Commission and/or the Consumers, Health, Agriculture and Food Executive Agency or any other body of the European Union. The European Commission and the Agency do not accept any responsibility for use that may be made of the information it contains.