• Text size Normal size text | Increase text size by 10% | Increase text size by 20% | Increase text size by 30%

One tragedy helps young Iraqi overcome another one

News Stories, 3 December 2007

© UNHCR/A.Pourgive
Basim is getting used to his new arm and is learning to look forward to the future.

DAMASCUS, Syria, December 3 (UNHCR) Aged 10, Basim* was a shy, happy-go-lucky boy and Grade A student until he was kidnapped from in front of his home in the southern Iraqi town of Basra one May day two years ago.

After almost three weeks and payment of a large ransom, the young Iraqi was released by his captors. But the boy was hurting mentally and physically and he felt isolated, stressed and angry.

The bodily pains would eventually go, but the mental scars were harder to remove. Basim refused to leave the house on his own and bodyguards had to accompany him every day to school. He used to be one of the top students in his class, but had lost interest after his traumatic experience.

When the family started receiving threats to kidnap their daughters, Basim's father a former member of the Iraqi military moved his wife and children to the safety of neighbouring Syria in late 2005. They were following a well-worn path: Syria now hosts some 1.4 million Iraqi refugees, with Jordan providing shelter to another 750,000 who have fled the deteriorating security situation at home.

The change in atmosphere and environment did little to bring Basim back from the brink; it took further tragedy and the help of UNHCR, a Syrian doctor and an Italian psychologist to do that.

Basim was enrolled in a school in Damascus, but he struggled to pass his exams and remained a tense and angry young man despite the best efforts of his parents to make him forget the abduction.

As Iraqis in Syria, Basim and his family had to travel to the border once every six months to reapply for a residency permit. In January this year they were travelling back from one such trip when their bus crashed. Basim lost his right arm and was left with a scarred face. He was treated at the Italian Hospital in Damascus, with the Italian Red Cross picking up most of the bill.

The boy's state of mind deteriorated even further as a result of the accident. His father, breaking down with emotion, recalled recently that Basim cried often and would sit in a corner of the house and ask: "Is this life?.... Does anyone want my body parts?"

This was when UNHCR entered Basim's life after his father asked the refugee agency's help in finding a prosthetic for his son. UNHCR staff in Damascus referred him to Terre des Hommes, a Christian charity based in the old part of Damascus.

But Basim would not let the doctor, Laurence Kamle, touch him when they first met. "I want nothing. I am waiting for my death.... I was taken hostage for three weeks and now, instead of being safe in this country, this happens to me. Where is the justice behind this?," he reportedly said.

Dr. Laurence realized that he could not help Basim alone and so referred him to a female psychologist at the Italian Hospital. Somehow she managed to connect with the young refugee and his mood had improved by the time he returned to the clinic.

He gained further courage and inspiration after meeting a girl who had also lost her arm and was being fitted for a prosthetic, while preparations for his sister's wedding gave him further motivation. Basim was soon asking Dr. Laurence to speed up the whole process.

In June, Basim finally got his new arm and the effect was remarkable. "I can now walk in the street," a beaming Basim told Dr, Laurence, who had now become a friend after helping him realize that he could help himself and look forward to the future despite still being a refugee. He returned to school and completed 8th Grade.

Basim is still very sensitive, prone to depression and physically weak, but he has definitely regained much of his old confidence. He dreams that science will one day allow him to get a real hand back. "He left our clinic with a new hand and new hope," Dr. Laurence noted.

* Name changed for protection reasons

By Abtin Pourgive in Damascus, Syria

• DONATE NOW •

 

• GET INVOLVED • • STAY INFORMED •

UNHCR country pages

Iraq Crisis: Urgent Appeal

Make a gift now to help protect and assist those fleeing violence in Iraq.

Donate to this crisis

CAR Crisis: Urgent Appeal

Make a gift now to help protect and assist those fleeing violence in Central African Republic.

Donate to this crisis

People with disabilities

Between 2.3 and 3.3 million of the world's forcibly displaced people live with disabilities, one third of them children.

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

Non-Iraqi Refugees in Jordan

After Saddam Hussein's regime was toppled in Iraq in 2003, groups of refugees who had lived in the country for many years tried to leave the chaos and lawlessness that soon ensued. Hundreds of people started fleeing to the border with Jordan, including Palestinians in Baghdad and Iranian Kurds from the Al Tash refugee camp in central Iraq.

Aside from a few Palestinians with family connections inside the neighbouring country, the refugees were refused entry and free movement in Jordan. Thousands were soon stranded in the no-man's land between Iraq and Jordan or at the desert camp of Ruweished, located 60 kilometres inside Jordan.

Since 2003, Palestinians, Iranian Kurds, Iranians, Sudanese and Somalis have been living there and suffering the scorching heat and freezing winters of the Jordanian desert. UNHCR and its partners have provided housing and assistance and tried to find solutions – the agency has helped resettle more than 1,000 people in third countries. At the beginning of 2007, a total of 119 people – mostly Palestinians – remained in Ruweished camp without any immediate solution in sight.

Posted on 20 February 2007

Non-Iraqi Refugees in Jordan

Iraqi Refugees in Jordan

The UN refugee agency has launched a US$60 million appeal to fund its work helping hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees and internally displaced people. The new appeal concludes that unremitting violence in Iraq will likely mean continued mass internal and external displacement affecting much of the surrounding region. The appeal notes that the current exodus is the largest long-term population movement in the Middle East since the displacement of Palestinians following the creation of Israel in 1948.

UNHCR has warned that the longer this conflict goes on, the more difficult it will become for the hundreds of thousands of displaced and the communities that are trying to help them – both inside and outside Iraq. Because the burden on host communities and governments in the region is enormous, it is essential that the international community support humanitarian efforts.

The US$60 million will cover UNHCR's protection and assistance programmes for Iraqi refugees in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Turkey, as well as non-Iraqi refugees and internally displaced people within Iraq itself.

Posted on 10 January 2007

Iraqi Refugees in Jordan

Jordan: Mohammad's Struggle for SurvivalPlay video

Jordan: Mohammad's Struggle for Survival

Meet Mohammad, a Syrian refugee in Jordan who, without the legal right to work, struggles to support his family and ensure his children's future.
Responding to Syria's Tragedy Play video

Responding to Syria's Tragedy

As Syria's war heads towards a fifth year, the United Nations and partners today launched a major new humanitarian and development appeal, requesting over US$8.4 billion in funds to help nearly 18 million people in Syria and across the region in 2015
Iraq: The Plight of the YazidisPlay video

Iraq: The Plight of the Yazidis

Tens of thousands of people, including ethnic Yazidis originating from the Sinjar area, have been forced to find shelter in schools and unfinished structures across northern Iraq since fleeing their homes. The UN refugee agency has been trying to help, opening camps to provide better shelter.