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Refugees with disabilities find hope in Turkey

ANKARA, 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.

However, Ryman faced many economic and social difficulties living as a refugee with a disability in Turkey. 

It was hard to make a living because she did not speak Turkish. However, her life changed completely when she received a phone call one day.

“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.”

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 in accessing these services.


Ryman enters into the service unit with her wheelchair ©️ UNFPA Turkey

The refugees with disabilities service unit was set up to help people like Ryman. It is operated by UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, with financial support of European Union Humanitarian Aid in cooperation with 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. The units also work in close collaboration with the Ministry of Health, municipalities and UNFPA to meet the sexual and reproductive health needs of women and girls with disabilities.

Ryman got help with translation and access to health services. In addition, the unit’s social protection and counselling services helped her socialize with other people and enabled her to make a living which boosted her self-confidence and self-esteem. 

“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.

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 is talking to the service unit personnel ©️ UNFPA Turkey

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 provide guidance to persons with disabilities by sharing my own experiences, support people in need, and lead efforts to ensure that they can access existing services.”

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."