Cash assistance gets older Syrians back on their feet


By Attila Kulcsar

Over two million Syrians have fled their country since the start of the war in 2011. The United Nations predicts these numbers could exceed four million by the end of this year. Among the refugees are tens of thousands of older women and men who are in desperate need of assistance. Fatema, 72, was forced from her home by the conflict in Syria. With Handicap International, we're giving cash assistance to older refugees like Fatema. (c) Logan Sullivan / Handicap International

HelpAge International, in partnership with Handicap International, is working in Lebanon and Jordan where there are more than 35,000 Syrian refugees aged 60 or over. Our work is funded by Age International and the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) and includes direct cash assistance to vulnerable refugees and families living in urban areas in Jordan.

Forced from their homes

In need of assistance is Fatema, who is currently living in Jordan with three of her daughters and eight of her grandchildren. Until she left Syria, Fatema had enjoyed an active life growing olives and wheat in a small village in the south of the country. But the violence drew closer and the sounds of mortars louder.

Just over a year ago, Fatema was injured in a road accident. She was 72 at the time and suffered a leg fracture. She was immediately taken to the local hospital, but was evacuated when moving front lines left patients without continued care. Armed forces arrived in her village, forcing Fatema, her family and neighbours onto the street. Their homes were then looted and burnt to the ground.

Together with one of her daughters, Fatema joined a group of people from her village headed towards Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan with only the clothes on their backs. The next day they left the camp in the hope of finding better healthcare and job prospects on the outskirts of the capital, Amman.

High rents and no income

Fatema was taken in by a woman she met who fed her, bathed her and clothed her. After a year, Fatema was able to join three of her daughters. They all now live in a simple home with limited access to water and intermittent electricity.

Currently suffering from osteoarthritis and calcification (the accumulation of calcium deposits) in both legs, in addition to her fracture, Fatema is entirely immobile in the absence of a caregiver.

“I feel like I’m in prison. I’m stuck inside every day,” Fatema explains with frustration. “I don’t care where I am – Syria, Jordan – as long as I can get outside and move.”

The huge influx of refugees and the resultant high demand for accommodation means Syrian refugees like Fatema are paying hundreds of dollars per month for rent alone. Fatema and her daughters are without regular incomes.

Cash assistance

The cash assistance provided by HelpAge, in partnership with Handicap International allows Fatema to choose how to support herself: She can pay for transport to the hospital and contribute to her family’s rent. Handicap International and HelpAge are also supporting families to manage their budgets.

Fatema looks back to the simple life she once had, before her two brothers were killed by soldiers. She sees her family now and her own physical condition, knowing she may never again enjoy the freedom of mobility. All she can hope for at this point is safety.

“My only dream for the future is that we can stay safe wherever we are,” Fatema explains with tears in her eyes. “This is all I can want now.”

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