Accessibility links

Syria's Disabled Refugees Lead a Hard Life in Jordan

  • Elizabeth Arrott

The trials and tribulations of Syrian refugees are bad enough. But for the mentally and physically challenged, the ordeal can be overwhelming.

Every refugee has a story. For Osama, a 17-year-old from southern Syria, his began when his family tried to flee his government-besieged town.

He related how in the early dawn hours, tanks stormed the local square and immediately started shooting and never stopped.

They made their harrowing trip across the border unharmed, an escape made more difficult by the special needs of several family members.

Now housed in a trailer at the Zaatari Refugee Camp in northern Jordan, Osama noted that his sister has Downs Syndrome, his aunt is mute and his uncle cannot walk. His aging grandmother helps take care of them.

They have found food and shelter in Jordan but, now, they're desperate for a wheelchair.

Osama explained that his uncle can’t even go to the bathroom by himself.

The demands are known all too well. Andrew Harper is the United Nations refugee agency representative in Jordan.

He said, “It's an issue of not only addressing the needs of the hundreds of thousands of people that come across the border seeking protection inside Jordan. It's also looking at the extremely vulnerable population that we have got in the camp.”

Syrian Refugees by Country

Lebanon: 511,418
Jordan: 472,631
Turkey: 376,640
Iraq: 155,139
Egypt: 77,169

Source: UNHCR
Neighboring countries have been generous with contributions, but distribution remains a problem. A wheelchair is spied in another part of the camp, but it's being used by a little boy as a make-shift cart.

There is also widespread theft with donated goods showing up in the black markets at the camp.

Colonel Zaher Abu Shehab, Zaatari's director, said, “This camp now is the fifth largest city in Jordan, and we are facing, like any other society, criminal acts.”

Jordanian guards who police the camp confided that it is worse than that. Some are scared to venture in areas alone.

Osama's family feels relatively safe in their trailer, which offers more protection than the tents.

But as grateful as they are, Osama's grandmother finds life here overwhelming and wants to return to Syria. She said it's her homeland and if she could go back tomorrow she would.