Interview with Regional Coordinator Emergency Operations
Thierry-Mehdi Benlahsen, regional coordinator of Handicap International’s emergency operations, explains the importance of making the humanitarian responses inclusive for the most vulnerable people, including persons with disabilities.
What is the current situation in and around Syria? How is Handicap International organising its response?
It is very difficult to describe precisely what the situation is like in Syria, but we can see, from the people we help in the countries they flee to, that the humanitarian situation is worsening every week. The first waves of refugees we saw arrive included a number of Syrians who had decided to leave their country, whilst those who arrive now had no other choice. They arrive here without any resources and are less prepared. Many of them are physically wounded and many more are traumatized by what they have been through.
This is why we are scaling up our response mechanism.
We have increased the number of staff within our mobile teams, which are reaching out to the most vulnerable people, to ensure that we can provide them with the information and the support that they require. We absolutely want to avoid having people who are in a situation of greater vulnerability – because they are injured, victims of torture, in a disabling situation, isolated, old or pregnant… – unable to access humanitarian aid. This is often the case in large-scale humanitarian operations, because these people require a specific response, which large organisations, dealing with hundreds of thousands of beneficiaries cannot give them.
In order to address the increasing level of psychological distress among the refugees we have also incorporated psychosocial activities to our response. The assessments we carry out revealed that it is indispensable to offer space for refugees to recreate social links and talk about their experience. In the communities we are visiting we will now start organising recreational activities with children, which will be facilitated by specialized staff. Discussions will be conducted with persons identified as particularly fragile and with their families / communities. These should pave the way for better inclusion of vulnerable persons and acceptance of their situation, when necessary. These small forums should also provide communities with a privileged environment in which to share their experiences and identify how they can best support each other.
Why is inclusion so important when it comes to humanitarian aid?
In an emergency situation like this one, nearly everyone is vulnerable. The generic response targets all refugees, based on their status. However, Handicap International has identified that some categories of people struggle to benefit from this generic response and we do everything we can to avoid that.
Persons in a situation of greater vulnerability require special attention, yet they are often forgotten in response mechanisms.
This is why, for example, we worked with UN lead agencies in Jordan to ensure that the design of the refugee camp installations enabled access for persons with specific needs, especially persons with physical limitations.
Another category is foreigners who live in Syria and aren’t eligible for refugee status when they arrive in neighbouring countries. A significant number of our beneficiaries are Jordanian or Lebanese returnees or host communities.
What is Handicap International doing to help persons with disabilities?
We make sure that persons living with permanent physical impairment receive the rehabilitation care, the psychosocial support, and the technical aids (prosthetic limbs, orthotics, mobility aids) which will allow them to adapt to their new situation and to reduce their disability as much as possible.
But in a situation like the one we see here, it is also very important to intervene at a stage where we can still avoid the development of permanent disabilities. So we work in clinics and hospitals to offer rehabilitation care to people who have been wounded and are at risk of developing disabilities. There are great human resources in Jordan and Lebanon to provide quality rehabilitation services, but hospitals are overloaded and concentrate their efforts on life saving surgeries. That is why our support is indispensable.