“With war comes responsibility. There are international rules that must be respected – all states have a responsibility to ensure international humanitarian law is upheld and enforced,” says Aleema Shivji, Executive Director of Handicap International UK. “The international community must ensure protection and life-saving assistance for all victims of explosive weapons, including those from Syria, in all areas impacted by these weapons.”
‘There Is No Safe Place In Syria’
By Aleema Shivji – Director, Handicap International UK
Iraj is a 6-year-old girl that will forever stay etched in my memories. On my last trip to Jordan I met Iraj and her family after they fled Syria where Iraj’s life was changed forever. Iraj was out picking flowers when she was hit by a sniper’s bullet and lost her leg as a result of her injuries. Our team in Jordan fitted her with a prosthesis and the little girl can now walk again but her family has struggled getting her accepted in a school given her disability.
The tragedy behind Iraj’s story is shared by millions of Syrians displaced by the ongoing conflict. The numbers related to this crisis are so big, it can be hard to think of them as individual stories, specific families, unique faces… Each story we hear has one thing in common: explosive weapons are always part of their heart-breaking account.
In Handicap International’s last report, ‘Qasef: Escaping the Bombing’, the people we have spoken to identify explosive weapons as the leading cause for millions of Syrians to flee their home.
Most of the time families are subject to multiple displacements. I was shocked to learn that, in some cases, the family can be displaced up to 25 times by successive attacks before finding a safe refuge. This causes extreme poverty and serious psychological distress. “Each time we tried to return to the house, but we could not stay because of the bombing. […] We had to move to other cities where armed forces had agreed not to attack. But the agreement was always broken and we had to move again. There is no safe place in Syria“ explains 20-year-old Ahmed, who found refuge in Jordan after being hit by shrapnel and suffering from a brain injury during bombing in Syria.
Ahmed’s sentiment that “there is no safe place in Syria” is universal among Syrian civilians interviewed in this report.
Bombing destroys everything. Even Syrians not directly affected by the attacks are forced to flee in order to survive and rebuild their lives. For many people who survive the immediate effects of an attack, explosive weapons become the driving cause for them to flee. Besides causing horrific injuries, explosive weapons spread terrors, make people fear for their lives and destroy vital infrastructure. Shelters, hospitals and schools are being destroyed by bombs. Water and electricity networks are also ruined leading to food and water insecurity.
Many of the Syrians we interviewed have injuries from the conflict and have had to leave Syria to seek adequate treatment for their conditions. The lack of hospitals, medical personnel, and maternity services endangers all Syrians, particularly women and their new-born children.
Aleema Shivji – Director, Handicap International UK
Aleema Shivji is Director of Handicap International UK. With over ten years of experience working in the field of disability, Aleema is particularly specialised in the inclusion of disabled and vulnerable people in humanitarian emergencies. Originally a qualified physiotherapist, since 2005 Aleema has worked with Handicap International across Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and the Caribbean, in crisis and post-crisis contexts. Before taking over as Director of Handicap International UK, Aleema was the head of mission for the organisation’s programme in Haiti.