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Hidden victims: Radical change needed for older, disabled and injured Syrian refugees

Emergency Inclusion
Jordan Lebanon Syria

New research published today shows that older, disabled and injured Syrian refugees are paying a double toll as a result of the conflict. The report, released by Handicap International and HelpAge International, provides new data showing how much these vulnerable refugees are struggling to meet their specific needs.

Ebtesam, 55, fractured her hip whilst living in Zataari refugee camp, northern Jordan.

Ebtesam, 55, fractured her hip whilst living in Zataari refugee camp, northern Jordan. | © Sebastien Nogier / Handicap International

The two agencies 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 hidden casualties of the conflict. More precise targeting and registration of refugees and better training of staff will ensure humanitarian assistance is accessible, appropriate and effective, says the report.

The Syrian crisis has now generated the largest refugee movement since the 1994 Rwandan genocide. The report shows that, hidden amongst the overall refugee population, disabled, injured and older refugees and those suffering from chronic diseases, are facing significant difficulties in accessing appropriate aid.

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 across 3,200 refugees, are stark:

• 30% of refugees in Jordan and Lebanon have specific needs:
- One in five refugees is affected by physical, sensory or intellectual impairment,
- One in seven is affected by chronic disease,
- One in 20 suffers from injury, with nearly 80% of these injuries directly resulting from the conflict.
• 77% of older refugees (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.”

Thierry-Mehdi Benlahsen, Regional Emergency Coordinator from Handicap International, says:

“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. 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.”

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 such as healthcare, income support and rehabilitation services.

This research is based on primary data collected in October and November 2013. The report, along with the full range of statistics and recommendations, is available to download below:

Hidden victims of the Syria crisis: Disabled, injured and older refugees (pdf, 1.4MB)

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