Registration helps Syrian boy with cerebral palsy access vital heath care in Iraq

Telling the Human Story, 16 October 2013

© UNHCR/B.Farell
Abdul with his wife and two boys in the safety of northern Iraq. He is holding Muhammed, who needs special medical treatment.

SULIMANIYA, Iraq, October 16 (UNHCR) When Abdul and his family fled from the Syrian capital of Damascus earlier this year and sought shelter in the countryside, they were escaping from ethnic persecution. But the crucial decision to cross the border into northern Iraq was for his youngest child.

"The main reason we have come here is for our son," he tells staff at the UNHCR office in Sulimaniya, explaining that six-year-old Muhammad was born with cerebral palsy and needs intensive physiotherapy as he grows.

"We trust in God that we will be able to find treatment for him," says Abdul, a tailor by trade and Syrian Kurd by ethnicity. "I'll travel anywhere to get treatment for my son," he adds, gently holding Muhammad in his arms. Registration with UNHCR will open up access to many rights, including that vital health care that the boy needs.

The journey to find professional care for Abdul's youngest offspring has led him, his wife Saliha, eldest son Qassim, aged eight, and Muhammad to the village of Baziyan, near Sulimaniya in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. It's not been an easy voyage.

Before the Syria crisis erupted in March 2011, they had lived a happy if quiet life in Damascus, where their home was close to the clinic that Muhammad attended for treatment. But over the past year things started to go downhill as the Syrian conflict escalated.

"We were threatened because we are Kurdish," Abdul reveals. "We were told to get out of town." The family moved from Damascus to Al-Hassakeh governorate in the north-east, but still did not feel safe and, critically, there was no physiotherapy available in the district for Muhammad. It was then that Abdul and his wife took the life-changing decision to cross the border into Iraq, following tens of thousands of other Syrian Kurds.

A month later, they find themselves registering as refugees at the UNHCR centre in Sulimaniya. They are among the 100 or so refugee families who are being registered each day in Sulimaniya, adding to the population of just under 200,000 Syrian refugees spread across the north.

William Tall, who heads UNHCR's team in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, says the registration process, supported by the European Commission through its European Commission's Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO), is vital so that refugees can be counted and included in service delivery. "Registration is the first, and one of the most important, protection tools that we've got, because from it all of the other protections and services follow," he says.

Because Muhammad is living with disability, he is classed by UNHCR as a vulnerable refugee with special needs. The registration will ensure that he is linked up with specialists and receives the necessary health care and treatment.

But registration will also directly benefit the rest of the family, opening up access to the possibility of a residency permit, employment rights, food assistance and education.

The Kurdistan Regional Government provides free health care for Syrian refugees, as it does for the local population, however resources are stretched in meeting the ever-growing demand. UNHCR is calling on the international community to provide more assistance to neighbouring countries, like Iraq, that are bearing the burden of hosting more than 2 million Syrian refugees.

Despite their own financial problems, many local communities in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq are sharing what they have with the arrivals from Syria. In Baziyan, the villagers have given cash and food to Abdul and his family and others. "There's no-one better than them in the world," he says of his new neighbours.

The donations have been so generous that Abdul has bought himself a sewing machine and plans to go back into business and to once again support his family and become self-sufficient a goal encouraged by UNHCR.

It will be a long, slow process. As with their son's disability, there's no quick or easy cure for the challenges facing this family. But with the goodwill and generosity of the host community, and their own hard work and dedication, they're hopeful of a better future.

By Ben Farrell in Sulimaniya, Iraq

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Crisis in Iraq: Displacement

UNHCR and its partners estimate that out of a total population of 26 million, some 1.9 million Iraqis are currently displaced internally and more than 2 million others have fled to nearby countries. While many people were displaced before 2003, increasing numbers of Iraqis are now fleeing escalating sectarian, ethnic and general violence. Since January 2006, UNHCR estimates that more than 800,000 Iraqis have been uprooted and that 40,000 to 50,000 continue to flee their homes every month. UNHCR anticipates there will be approximately 2.3 million internally displaced people within Iraq by the end of 2007. The refugee agency and its partners have provided emergency assistance, shelter and legal aid to displaced Iraqis where security has allowed.

In January 2007, UNHCR launched an initial appeal for US$60 million to fund its Iraq programme. Despite security issues for humanitarian workers inside the country, UNHCR and partners hope to continue helping up to 250,000 of the most vulnerable internally displaced Iraqis and their host communities

Posted on 12 June 2007

Crisis in Iraq: Displacement

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie meets Iraqi refugees in Syria

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie returned to the Syrian capital Damascus on 2 October, 2009 to meet Iraqi refugees two years after her last visit. The award-winning American actress, accompanied by her partner Brad Pitt, took the opportunity to urge the international community not to forget the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees who remain in exile despite a relative improvement in the security situation in their homeland. Jolie said most Iraqi refugees cannot return to Iraq in view of the severe trauma they experienced there, the uncertainty linked to the coming Iraqi elections, the security issues and the lack of basic services. They will need continued support from the international community, she said. The Goodwill Ambassador visited the homes of two vulnerable Iraqi families in the Jaramana district of southern Damascus. She was particularly moved during a meeting with a woman from a religious minority who told Jolie how she was physically abused and her son tortured after being abducted earlier this year in Iraq and held for days. They decided to flee to Syria, which has been a generous host to refugees.

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie meets Iraqi refugees in Syria

Angelina Jolie returns to Iraq, urges support for the displaced

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie returned to Iraq in July 2009 to offer support to the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who remain displaced within their own country.

During her day-long visit to Baghdad, UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie visited a makeshift settlement for internally displaced people in north-west Baghdad where she met families displaced from the district of Abu Ghraib, located to the west of Baghdad, and from the western suburbs of the capital.

Despite the difficulties in Iraq, Jolie said this was a moment of opportunity for Iraqis to rebuild their lives. "This is a moment where things seem to be improving on the ground, but Iraqis need a lot of support and help to rebuild their lives."

UNHCR estimates that 1.6 million Iraqis were internally displaced by a wave of sectarian warfare that erupted in February 2006 after the bombing of a mosque in the ancient city of Samarra. Almost 300,000 people have returned to their homes amid a general improvement in the security situation since mid-2008.

Angelina Jolie returns to Iraq, urges support for the displaced

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