Now they must learn to survive in a region filled with uneven pavement, steps instead of elevators and a general lack of services for the disabled.
Here in this Turkish town, just a few miles from a Syrian border crossing, the damage of the war is measured in more than the estimated death toll of 60,000. A plan for the future of Syria will have to include caring for the thousands with serious and permanent injuries, doctors and activists say.
“I’m sure people won’t forget us fighters,” said Ahmad al-Zier, 31, a father of two who was paralyzed from the waist down by two bullets while fighting against government forces in Idlib province, in northwestern Syria, eight months ago. “People will take care of us.”
Syrians with disabilities, especially those living in rural areas, have long lacked access to government-sponsored services, education or jobs, according to reports by advocacy groups. Data are scarce, but the World Bank estimated in 2002 that Syria had 500,000 to 1.4 million disabled citizens and that less than 5 percent of them had access to needed services.
In the past decade, the Syrian government had moved to improve its care of the disabled. But advocates say that progress was slow and that it stalled when the rebellion against the government began in 2011.
As the fighting has intensified, doctors working in Syria say they have struggled to treat the growing number of wounded in makeshift field hospitals with limited supplies. Some of the injured journey to hospitals in neighboring countries, such as Turkey, where they are usually treated and quickly released.
To help them, a group of Syrian expatriates started the 80-bed recovery and rehabilitation center in a former girls’ dormitory in Reyhanli in August. Patients stay free of charge, and the center covers its $100,000 monthly expenses with donations and some money from aid organizations, according to the center’s executive manager, Yasir Alsyed.
The number of paralyzed patients at the center has grown from three in the first few months to 22 this month, including four who have no use of any of their limbs. Most are men in their 20s and 30s, but there are also three children and four women.
“Sometimes the snipers target the head,” said Housam al-
Mustafa, 26, a Syrian surgeon who said he escaped to Turkey after government officials caught him falsifying hospital records so that he could secretly treat injured anti-government activists. “Sometimes the snipers target the spinal cord, just to make them suffer in their life.”