March 15th marks the sixth anniversary of the Syrian crisis. Since 2011, more than 300,000 Syrians have died and one million have been injured. Close to 5 million people have fled the country and 6.5 million have been internally displaced.
13.5 million people currently need humanitarian assistance in Syria. Handicap International has been providing assistance to the Syrian people since the start of the crisis and has been carrying out its activities with various partners, in Syria itself, for the past four years.
Acute needs for rehabilitation and psychosocial services
One of the organisation’s top priorities is to provide adapted rehabilitation services. Since the launch of Handicap International’s operations in the country, it has provided tens of thousands of injured and disabled Syrians with physiotherapy care, with protheses and ortheses, as well as mobility aids, such as wheelchairs and walking frames.
The organisation also runs psychological support activities. “People who are still in Syria have lived through more than five years of war, a highly traumatic experience”, explains Mélanie Broquet, who monitors and coordinates Handicap International’s programmes in Syria. “These people need to be able to talk about it if they feel the need. They should not be left to face their pain on their own. Their psychological well-being is just as important as their physical health in circumstances like these.”
Protecting people from explosive remnants of war
In addition to providing care and treatment for people’s visible and invisible wounds, Handicap International also organises risk education sessions on mines and other explosive devices, to protect them from the risks of remnants of war. The aim of this activity is to raise their awareness of the dangers and impact of conventional weapons widely used in Syria, since the start of the conflict. The more aware Syrians are of the dangers, the more able they will be to protect themselves. More than 300,000 Syrians have already benefited from these sessions since Handicap International launched its operations in the country.
To expand their humanitarian assistance to the population, Handicap International and its local partners also regularly distribute food and essential equipment such as blankets, mattresses and cooking utensils to the people worst-affected by the conflict. To ensure no one is left out of this emergency response, the organisation also implements inclusion activities by providing training and support to other humanitarian actors. The goal is to ensure people with disabilities, older people and the destitutes are not excluded from the relief effort.
As part of its humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people, Handicap International has also developed similar activities for refugees in Jordan and Lebanon. Since 2012, the organisation has provided assistance to over 900,000 vulnerable people in the region.
Stop bombing civilians !
According to the QASEF: Escaping the bombing report published by Handicap International last September, the massive use of explosive weapons in populated areas is an overriding factor in the mass displacement of Syrians. More than 11 million Syrians have been affected – half of the country’s population. The testimonies gathered by Handicap International reveal that terrorised Syrians fleeing successive attacks are displaced up to 25 times before they find a safe refuge. Repeated displacement causes extreme hardship and serious psychological distress.
“Bombing and shelling are the rule in the Syrian conflict. They have reached a level of terrifying intensity, with a devastating impact on civilians,” says Mélanie Broquet. “Entire cities have been destroyed and their populations traumatised. It will take generations for the country to recover once the conflict is over.”
Under international humanitarian law, civilians must be protected during conflicts. Explosive weapons, including illegal weapons such as cluster munitions and anti-personnel mines, are used in populated areas and have a devastating impact on Syrian civilians. Handicap International calls the international community to firmly and systematically condemn these practices.
On this day, Handicap International launches a global campaign to collect one million signatures to “Stop bombing civilians”. The signatures will be presented to policy makers in September 2018. As a member of the INEW (International Network on Explosive Weapons) coalition, the organisation has drawn up a political declaration on ending the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. It is calling on States to sign it and support it.