Hidden Victims: Radical Change Needed for Older, Disabled and Injured Syrian Refugees

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New Report from Handicap International and HelpAge International Finds 30% of Syrian Refugees in Jordan and Lebanon with Specific Needs

Mohamed, physiotherapist for Handicap International in Jordan, listens to and comforts Fatima, a Syrian refugee of 75 years, in the refugee camp of Zaatari, in the North of Jordan.

...the findings of the report have far reaching consequences for the way humanitarian response activities are designed and delivered.

Older, disabled, and injured Syrian refugees are being doubly victimized as a result of the Syria conflict, according to a new report by Handicap International and HelpAge International. The new data show that these vulnerable individuals, as well as those suffering from chronic diseases, are being left in the shadows of the humanitarian responses.

“Displacement has a severe negative impact on the daily life of disabled and injured people, who need urgent access to health services but also long-term medical, financial and social support,” says Thierry-Mehdi Benlahsen, Regional Emergency Coordinator from Handicap International. “Addressing the needs of all refugees is critical to the delivery of principled and impartial aid. As such, the findings of the report have far reaching consequences for the way humanitarian response activities are designed and delivered.”

The two organizations are calling on all national and international humanitarian stakeholders providing assistance to Syrian refugees to change the way aid is delivered so that disabled, injured and older refugees are no longer the conflict’s hidden casualties. More precise targeting and registration of refugees and better training of staff will ensure humanitarian assistance is accessible, appropriate and effective, according to the report.

Invisible, the most vulnerable people are at far greater risk of falling through the gaps of humanitarian relief, with a far higher impact on their health, living conditions and social integration than for other refugees, as well as increased psychological distress. Yet, studies of humanitarian assistance show how these same groups are often neglected in the assessment, the collection of data, design and delivery of humanitarian relief.

The report’s findings, based on primary data collected from 3,200 refugees, are stark:

  •     30% of refugees in Jordan and Lebanon have specific needs:

o    one in five refugees is affected by physical, sensory or intellectual impairment,
o    one in seven is affected by chronic disease,
o    one in 20 suffers from injury, with nearly 80% of these injuries directly resulting from the conflict.

  •     77% of older refugees (age 60+) are affected by impairment, injury or chronic disease.
  •     Refugees affected by impairment, injury or chronic disease are twice as likely as the general refugee population to report signs of psychological distress.
  •     65% of older refugees present signs of psychological distress.
  •     45% of refugees with specific needs have problems carrying out simple daily tasks.

“The lack of psychosocial or mental health care is a major challenge, significantly affecting the well-being of older people but also placing an additional burden on their families,” says Toby Porter, Chief Executive Officer of HelpAge International. “Aid needs to be tailored specifically so that older, disabled and injured Syrian refugees are provided with appropriate treatment, so that this in turn may help to reduce the trauma of displacement.”

To ensure that people with specific needs are no longer the forgotten casualties of this conflict, Handicap International and HelpAge International are making eight recommendations, such as appropriate collection of information so that older, disabled and injured refugees can access essential services like healthcare, income support and rehabilitation services.

Notes to editors
This research is based on primary data collected in October and November 2013.

Experts available for comment

  •     Thierry-Mehdi Benlahsen, Regional Emergency Coordinator, Handicap International
  •     Lydia De Leeuw, Regional Inclusion Program Manager, Handicap International / HelpAge International
  •     Donna Cordner, Executive Director, HelpAge USA
  •     Elizabeth MacNairn, Executive Director, Handicap International U.S.
  •     Marcus Skinner, Humanitarian Policy Manager, HelpAge International

HelpAge International
Sarah Gillam
Mobile: +44 (0) 7713 567624
Tel: +44 (0) 207 148 7623

About Handicap International and HelpAge
Handicap International and HelpAge International, both Hilton Humanitarian Prize Laureates, are working together to respond to the Syrian refugee crisis in Jordan and Lebanon. Using their joint expertise, the organizations identify the needs of the most vulnerable groups, including older and disabled people, to ensure their access to essential relief services (e.g. shelter, physiotherapy) and to provide them with direct cash assistance. They are also training other humanitarian organizations to ensure these people are taken into account in their own aid programs.

Co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Handicap International is a charity working in situations of poverty and exclusion, conflict and disaster. We work tirelessly alongside disabled and vulnerable people in more than 60 countries worldwide.

HelpAge International helps older people claim their rights, challenge discrimination and overcome poverty, so that they can lead dignified, secure, active and healthy lives. Our work is strengthened through our global network of like-minded organizations—the only one of its kind in the world. http://www.helpage.org

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