The war in Syria had a devastating impact on the country’s population since it began in 2011. Out of the country’s pre-war population of 22 million, it is estimated that 400,000 to 500,000 have been killed while countless others have been injured, often permanently. In a country where the healthcare system has virtually collapsed, caring and treating the disabled has become a difficult, demanding task. A new centre opened in the northern city of Qamishli seeks to meet the task, providing a safe space for treatment and rehabilitation.
The centre is set up as a compound, with numerous houses for the patients to live in, as well as a central facility where rehabilitative treatments such as physiotherapy are applied. With ample ramps and other amenities for ease of access, one of the main goals of the self-managed centre is to keep patients living as independently as possible. Wheelchairs and other mobility devices are available for those in need and the layout allows for their users to traverse the centre easily.
Nearly all the patients here are ISIS victims. Some, such as Ibrahim who hails from Tabqa City, are civilians who were caught in the crossfire or in ISIS attacks. Ibrahim, a former lawyer from Tabqa City, lost his leg and eye when a militant blew himself up. He hopes to return to his profession as a lawyer once he is fully rehabilitated.
Others are fighters of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which counts Qamishli as one of its strongholds. One such fighter, Susan, was in the city of Manbij when she was caught in an ambush. She now uses a wheelchair and completing her physiotherapy.
The fact that many of the patients here have been victims of ISIS attacks or fought against the group has allowed for a community of sorts to form, with the ability to share experiences and relate to one-another helping not only with the physical healing but mental healing as well.
Even before the war, Syria was not the easiest place for people with disabilities to live in. The war has not only made things harder for such people, but it has also multiplied the numbers of those with disabilities. If and when peace comes to Syria, caring for such people will be one of the most pressing public health concerns. The centre here in Qamishli is a promising development towards this goal. However, there is much more work to be done.