According to Handicap International’s teams in the field, these developments have made it even more difficult for refugees to survive. Olivia Biernacki has been working in Jordan since the end of 2012 to help improve access to humanitarian aid for the most vulnerable people. Olivia is part of a 250-strong emergency team formed by Handicap International in response to the crisis in Syria. Based in Jordan, her aim is to ensure that the most vulnerable people are able to access the services they need.
“My role is to build bridges between the most vulnerable refugees – people with disabilities and injuries, pregnant women, and isolated and older people – and humanitarian aid. Depending on the situation, we intervene directly – by providing rehabilitation care and psychosocial support, or by distributing the essential non-food items at our disposal. Or by directing people to a service that can help them by providing them with support until we’re sure the situation has improved. Our goal is to make sure that, despite the scale of the disaster, no one is left behind.”
Alarming rise in refugee numbers
Every day, Handicap International’s teams reach out to Syrian refugees living in camps or in Jordanian communities, where many rent a few square metres of an apartment or garage. This work, which plays a vital role in ensuring refugees can continue to access humanitarian aid, has yielded promising results. “Word of mouth works really well. We get calls directly from people who need our help and from services with which we have formed very strong ties.”
Coordinating aid to cover a complete range of needs
The humanitarian relief effort has to reflect both changes in people’s needs and the resources supplied by international funding bodies. Part of Olivia Biernacki’s task is therefore to work with Handicap International’s partners to provide a coordinated response and to keep up-to-date with the services available to refugees.
“In practical terms, if a family is having problems paying its rent, we need to be able to point them towards an organisation that can provide them with financial support or identify other shelter options. The most vulnerable people need more than direct aid and we form a link between refugees and the complete range of humanitarian aid open to them. This is sorely lacking and people are extremely grateful for this type of assistance.”
Handicap International’s intervention is vital
“I’ve been struck by the sheer number of refugees with injuries or disabilities, despite the fact that almost no other organisation provides rehabilitation care in northern Jordan or the camps. We constantly need to readjust our priorities to reconcile the scale of needs in the field with the need to provide follow-up care and a sympathetic ear to the people we case-manage. That’s why we’re also stepping-up our psychosocial activities.”
“This is my first mission with Handicap International and I’ve never once doubted the usefulness of our work. The needs are so great that we do really essential work. Unless we do it, no one else will take care of people with disabilities, and many injured people will develop permanent disabilities simply because they haven’t received enough care.”
As part of her work, Olivia Biernacki monitors changes in the living conditions of refugees and measures the impact of humanitarian aid. “When a woman who has lost both of her legs in a bombing raid is given a wheel chair and can buy food at the market again and look after her children, it really changes her life. We witness a lot of pain and suffering. The war is raging just a few kilometres over the border and the people we meet are often still extremely traumatised by their experience. I’m also lucky to work with the Jordanian teams, who have been doing some really impressive work, and I think that this sense of solidarity with the Jordanians and Syrians helps us keep on going. Once you’ve witnessed that, doing nothing is not an option”.