Iraqis with disabilities struggle for dignity in camp
Unable to leave her tent unassisted, 94-year-old Fatima's plight highlights the challenge for Iraqis with disabilities in adapting to conditions in displacement.
QAYMAWA CAMP, Kurdistan Region of Iraq – Fatima Mehamed sits wearily on a mat inside her darkened tent and watches through the flaps as her two grandchildren laugh and play outside under a warm autumn sun.
Fatima, 94, is unable to move outdoors due to constant pain in her chest and weak leg muscles which have prevented her from walking for the past eight years.
She and eight members of her family have found refuge in the Qaymawa Camp in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) after they were forced to flee intense fighting near their village of Chanchi, just north of Mosul.
Staying alive in their village, and then making the desperate trek to the camp, posed extraordinary challenges for the family.
"I pulled her from room to room to protect her from bullets that might come through the window.”
“I sat my mother on a rug because she couldn’t move,” says Fatima’s daughter and main caregiver, 48-year old Fathiya. “As we heard shelling and the sounds of gunfire all around us, I pulled her from room to room to protect her from bullets that might come through the window.”
Qaymawa is one of 10 camps UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, has planned to respond to an anticipated large-scale displacement from Mosul. Qaymawa can house up to 6,000 people.
Even though they are happy to be safe inside the camp, providing care for Fatima is a daily struggle. “It is difficult to look after my mother here,” says Fathiya. “My sister and I have to carry her to the toilet and she hasn’t had a shower since we arrived.”
Fatima has a wheelchair, but it is broken and the family can’t afford to fix it. A new one would cost US$200.
Fatima’s plight highlights the particular challenges faced by those with disabilities in adapting to conditions in the camp, where even the most basic necessities such as water, food and sanitation can be difficult to access.
With more than 4,500 people residing in the camp, and more arriving every day, there are no clear figures on the number of people with disabilities currently living inside Qaymawa. When the camp first opened in late October, more than twenty people with physical disabilities had been identified.
“UNHCR protection officers are currently making a map of the camp to identify those with special needs, so we, along with the Department of Health and other NGOs, can properly respond, including the distribution of wheelchairs,” said Djamal Zamoum, UNHCR Senior Emergency Field Co-ordinator in Iraq.
“My mother misses the light. She asks me to take her out so she can see people and enjoy some fresh air. But it isn’t possible.”
UNHCR is seeking to find the best ways to assist people with disabilities at the camp, taking into account their individual circumstances. It is also strongly advocating for those with reduced mobility to be reunited with relatives who live out of camp so they can receive more appropriate care.
For now, there are no special services in place, but Fathiya believes small solutions would make a big difference for her mother. “It would really help if we had a mobile toilet for her, and if there was an empty tent with a bucket of water where my sister and I could wash her,” she says.
“My mother misses the light. She asks me to take her out so she can see people and enjoy some fresh air. But it isn’t possible,” she adds.
Already growing frustrated at being confined, Fatima says she does not want to die in the tent. "I want to go home where we have a very nice bathroom and garden. My house is a beautiful memory.”
An estimated 68,000 people have been displaced from Iraq’s second city since the military offensive began on October 17.