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European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations
Refugees with disabilities

find hope in Turkey

Ryman, 43, from northern Syria, has been unable to walk ever since she was a small child. When the war in Syria started in 2011, life became even more difficult for her. In 2017 – and with help from her family – she managed to flee to Turkey. A project funded by EU humanitarian aid helped her access health services, boost her self-esteem and make her own living.

Living as a refugee with a disability is not easy. For Ryman, without speaking Turkish, it was hard to make a living. But one day she received a phone call that changed her life completely.

“I was told that there is a centre that provides services for persons with disabilities and their support persons,” she said. “I was very happy to hear that there was a place where I could get support.”

Helping refugees with special needs

Turkey hosts nearly 4 million refugees. The Association for Solidarity with Asylum Seekers and Migrants (SGDD-ASAM) estimates that approximately 450,000 of them live with various disabilities.

Most refugees with disabilities do not have enough information about their rights and the services available to them, or they have difficulty accessing these services.

The EU provided financial support to help set up a service unit for refugees with disabilities. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) is running this unit, supported by the EU humanitarian aid and in cooperation with the Association for Solidarity with Asylum Seekers and Migrants (SGDD-ASAM).

The service units help people with special needs access services such as counselling, psychosocial support and legal advice, as well as learning about rights and entitlements.

Ryman got help with translation and access to health services. In addition, the unit’s social protection and counselling services helped her socialise with other people.

With all this support, she could start making her own living, which greatly boosted her confidence and self-esteem. 

Ryman talking to the service unit personnel
Ryman talking to the service unit personnel
UNFPA Turkey

Ryman talking to the service unit personnel © UNFPA Turkey

“The most difficult thing for me was to make a living on my own,” she said. “In the service unit, they told me that I could produce handmade things at home. Now, I make a living by making home accessory handicrafts.”

Today, Ryman volunteers at the service unit to help persons with disabilities like herself.

“I felt that I had to strengthen myself psychologically, and I made a promise to myself that the obstacles [I face] would not affect my life,” she said.

The dream of supporting others

This promise encouraged Ryman to dream of supporting other people with disabilities. Thanks to the project, and her volunteer work, her dream came true.

“I always wanted a place where people with special needs are supported and where I can provide training,” she said.

Ryman works with other persons with disabilities to improve the service unit and to make sure their voices are heard. Now, she leads a working group at the centre.

“We set up a working group,” she said. “It is very important for us to establish a structure in which the problems of persons with disabilities are expressed. We are working towards this goal. I am very happy to lead this.”

“Now, I know that there is a place where I can guide persons with disabilities by sharing my own experiences, support people in need, and lead efforts to ensure that they can access existing services,” she explained

Ryman’s biggest dream is to help others like her to think themselves free from their disabilities and get to a point where they can say: "In my mind, I got rid of the disability."

Story by UNFPA.
Main picture: © UNFPA Turkey
Publication date: 03/12/2021

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