“My children and I want to return to Syria,” Ashraf’s mother tells us. Life in Lebanon for the Syrian refugee family has been difficult. They have moved from place to place, searching for a stable spot to call home, but often they have struggled with paying the rent, and been threatened by their landlords.
The family currently reside in a refugee camp. “It’s not a great place for us. We often don’t feel very safe there, but it’s better than what we had in Syria.”
The diesel crisis in Syria
In 2013, due to the ongoing war in Syria, there was a huge shortage of diesel. Many families who would use diesel to heat their homes were forced to buy fuel on the black market, which often was laced with highly flammable liquids like benzene.
It was a cold winter, and like many families, Ashraf’s parents had to make a difficult decision: buy this fuel which may well be dangerous, or be forced to sleep in freezing conditions. They chose to buy the ‘diesel’ being sold.
When they went to light the heater, it exploded, badly burning Ashraf’s hand. He was just four years old at the time.
Life following the accident
Ashraf got treatment for the burns on his hands in a hospital in Syria. However, checkpoints and roadblocks put up during the war often meant that the family couldn’t get Ashraf to his follow up appointments.
Since then, two of the fingers on his hand have contracted and cannot bend properly. This means that everyday tasks like writing, drawing, and even eating have become arduous tasks that cause him considerable pain.
This situation made Ashraf’s parents extremely anxious. How could they help their son if the war meant he couldn’t even attend follow ups at the hospital? “The sight of dead bodies lying in the road became normal for my children. What kind of life is that for a child?” his mother asks. They made the decision to leave for Lebanon.
“We always saw Lebanon as a temporary place to live, just while the war died down. We thought we would only be there for three or four months maximum. But three years later and it doesn’t look like there’s a way back any time soon.”
Looking for help
For the past three years, Ashraf’s injury has been the only thing on his parents’ minds. They couldn’t find anyone to help here, and had begun to think about risking their lives by returning to Syria to get him the treatment that he needs.
However, when the family brought Ashraf into a screening at a clinic run by the Union of Relief and Development Associations (URDA), an INARA caseworker was there. The screening physician encouraged the family to talk to the INARA caseworker, who took down the family’s details and arranged for them to come to meet our doctors at the American University of Beirut Medical Center (AUBMC).
Dr Amir Ibrahim met with the child in early July, and explained that he would need scar release and skin graft surgeries in order to restore full mobility to Ashraf’s hand. During these surgeries, wires would be installed in her fingers for two weeks, and removed after two weeks. He would also need a number of physiotherapy sessions as well to ensure he can fully move his hand again.
Ashraf had the surgery in mid-July, and it was a success. Two weeks later, the wires were removed from his fingers at a follow-up. We then liaised with Mousawat, a local NGO in Lebanon, to ensure that Ashraf’s physiotherapy sessions were booked in over the coming weeks.
Hope for Ashraf’s future
When we ask Ashraf what his dreams for the future, he replies: “I want to go back to Syria.” He misses his cousins who are still in Syria. “Knowing that his hand will get better means that he’ll be able to go to school, and write like all the other kids,” his mother tells us, with a hopeful smile on her face.
The family miss everything about their old life in Syria. They wait for the day that there is peace once again in Syria, so they can return and help to rebuild their life.
We can’t give them what they hope and dream for, but by restoring full mobility to Ashraf’s hand, we hope we can help in some small way to make his future brighter and happier.
UNICEF contributed to Ashraf's treatment.