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In Iraq, meeting the needs of Syrian refugees living with disabilities

© UNICEF Iraq/2013/Niles
(Left-right) Suliman Gorgis with his son Mohammed, who has Down Syndrome, in the Arbat transit camp for Syrian refugees, northern Iraq. Mohammed’s youngest brother (not pictured) has a hip injury that makes walking difficult.

By Chris Niles

A new camp that will have facilities for Syrian refugees living with disabilities is under construction in Sulimaniyah, Iraq. A UNICEF officer ensures families are as comfortable as possible in the meantime.

SULIMANIYAH, Iraq, 29 November 2013 – There are nearly 2,500 Syrians living in Arbat refugee camp just outside of Sulimaniyah, and many of them, like Suliman Gorgis’s family, live with disabilities.

Suliman oldest son Yousef was paralysed at birth. Another son, Mohammed, has Down Syndrome. A third son, Yasser, walks with difficulty because of a hip injury.

To ensure that they are as comfortable as possible under the circumstances, UNICEF Water and Sanitation Officer Atheer Al Yaseen has been working with the Gorgis family since they crossed the border from the Syrian Arab Republic a couple of months ago. Getting a bed for Yousef was the first step.

© UNICEF Iraq/2013/Niles
(Right) Yousef, Mohammed’s oldest brother, was paralysed at birth. A UNICEF staff member helped obtain a bed to ease his comfort – and is working to provide similar assistance for others living with disabilities in Arbat.

“He was very uncomfortable lying on the ground,” Mr. Al Yaseen says. “He would get very stiff, and insects attacked him constantly.”

Yousef now rests in a bed in the family tent, and his family is more easily able to take care of him.

Arbat is a transit camp. A permanent camp is being constructed a few miles down the road, and it will have facilities for people with special needs, including ramps and wide access points for latrines and other sanitary facilities.

That camp is expected to be finished in the next couple of months. In the meantime, Mr. Al Yaseen has ordered 15 wheelchairs and 15 beds to cater to those in the transit camp. And he has begun advocating for more employment opportunities for Syrian refugees of all abilities.

Like many parents, Suliman worries that Mohammed doesn’t have enough to do.

“He likes playing football, and he likes to work on the computer,” Suliman says. “He doesn’t have a computer.”



UNICEF Photography: Syrian crisis

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