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Long road to resettlement for disabled Iraqi refugees

Hamid and his family at their rented apartment. While the humanitarian crisis of displaced Iraqis shows little sign of abating, the push for resettlement of Iraqi refugees has increasingly put strain on the resettlement program at the UNHCR Cairo office.
(Marwa Awad/IRIN)

Hamid Amin Hamza, his wife Om Omar, and their family of 10, including their physically disabled son Jaafar, live in a shabby apartment in Cairo’s Madinat Nasser suburb. They fled Iraq in 2007 and reached Egypt via Syria seeking security, economic stability and above all treatment for their son.

“We came here because the situation in Iraq was unbearable. Not only were we in danger, but Jaafar was suffering the most,” said Hamid. Jaafar, aged 9, suffers from quadriplegia, a condition affecting his four limbs, rendering him physically disabled.

“Jaafar is completely dependent on us,” said his mother. “We have to feed him, carry him to the washroom and anywhere he needs to be taken. He is getting older and heavier and I don’t know how long we can provide for him. Doctors say his condition is permanent; he needs special care,” she said.

Ahlam Tobias at Caritas, one of the UNHCR’s implementing partners, agrees: “Jaafar… needs to be admitted to a rehabilitation centre for children with permanent disabilities.”

However, such facilities are not available in Egypt. “We are talking about fully equipped rehabilitation centres with a slew of services catering to every single need of a patient like Jaafar. No centre of this scale exists in Egypt,” she said.

She produced an urgent medical report for UNHCR Cairo in early 2008 describing Jaafar’s condition and his need to be treated where such rehabilitation programmes are available.

Resettlement criteria

Photo: Marwa Awad/IRIN
Jaafar Hamid Amin Hamza, 9, had a Jaundice complication when he was born that went untreated, resulting in his current disability known as quadriplegia. No treatment facilities exist in Egypt or the Arab region for his permanent condition

According to UNHCR Cairo, the main objectives in 2008 are to “ensure international standards of protection are met for all persons of concern to UNHCR through registration, documentation, targeted refugee status determination, as well as identification of persons with special needs.”

UNHCR media spokesperson Abeer Etifa, has said the criteria for resettlement in third countries are people who have life-threatening diseases that have no scope for treatment in Egypt. “Resettlement is a durable solution for the most vulnerable refugees,” Etifa said.

However, Jaafar’s family has had their resettlement hopes dashed. “I phoned UNHCR Cairo… and was told: ‘you and your family do not meet the resettlement criteria’,” said Hamid.

Iraqi Information Office

Like many Iraqi refugees and asylum-seekers, Hamid sought legal aid from the Iraqi Information Office, at St. Andrew’s Refugee Centre.

The Office provides legal assistance to Iraqis wishing to register with the UNHCR and those who need help with navigating the procedural complexities of the resettlement process.

“The Iraqi Information Office strives to be a communicative link between UNHCR Cairo and Iraqis applying for resettlement. We assist our refugee clients to prepare testimony supported by legal documents and arguments based on international refugee and human rights law,” Jeffrey Hancuff, director of the centre, said.

According to Hancuff, the problem with Hamid’s case is that he has not been able to establish a credible case that he has valid reasons to fear for his life.


"Credibility is always a crucial issue because the expectation is that refugees would have perfect memories, but the reality is that the very fear and trauma that made them refugees also often affects their ability to accurately remember dates and times," Hancuff said.

"When you are scared for your life and the life of your family, you generally aren't taking notes. Many people who come to us are months off in basic dates like when they left the country. It doesn't mean they are lying, it only means that they were more concerned with more basic needs," he said.

Michael Kagan, a senior fellow in human rights law at the American University of Cairo, said “UNHCR headquarters has yet to set clear guidelines for credibility assessments."

Meanwhile, Hamid’s family’s situation remains precarious and Jaafar remains without rehabilitation and proper care.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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