Abu Ra'if and the Impact of the Syrian Crisis on Older People
Abu Ra'if and the Older Syrians during the War
Abu Ra'if roams over the clay-colored dirt outside the village of Haram in northwest Syria. The 90-year-old is paralyzed and unable to walk. He relies on a motorized wheelchair in order to move.
He parks his wheelchair beneath the shade of an olive tree, facing the laundry on a line out to dry. “I have experienced several wars, but nothing like this,” Abu Ra'if said.
Abu Ra'if lost a son during an airstrike in the city of Maarat al-Numan in northwest Syria. His home was also completely destroyed. Now—Abu Ra’if, his wife, and one-surviving son live in a makeshift shelter on farmland outside of Haram. The war has displaced Abu Ra’if, leaving the 90-year-old and his family with few resources to survive.
Despite facing heightened risks, older Syrians like Abu Ra’if are often less visible in news coverage of the war.
Older people face particular risks in Syria.
Almost 850,000 people are estimated to be above the age of 60 in Syria—some 4 per cent of the total population. Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have been killed since the war began and millions more have been displaced.
As the Syrian crisis has continued, elderly people have become increasingly vulnerable and face specific risks, such as the likely deterioration of their physical health, exacerbation of pre-existing health conditions, and inadequate nutrition.
Older people are more likely to have a physical disability and face additional barriers in access assistance and services. They are generally less likely and less able to make the difficult journeys that are needed to find refuge. Because many are unable to flee during hostilities, elderly Syrians face an increased risk of violence and family separation.
Older Syrians are often left behind by the war and overlooked.
The crisis in Syria has torn families apart, as people have died or become refugees overseas.
Many older Syrians have little to no support networks after young family members and caregivers have fled. This leaves older people alone to provide for themselves. With little support, many are unable to access supplies and services and are more vulnerable to violence and abuse. In addition, older Syrians struggle to cope alone with family members dead or abroad. They are forced into solitude at retirement homes amid mass displacement. Retirement homes are in short supply in Syria, and many existing homes are at or nearing capacity.
Despite facing heightened risks, older Syrians are often less visible in reporting and assessment of the crisis. Moreover, the role of older persons in displaced communities, including in preserving cultural heritage and connection with the country, often goes unrecognized.
Mohammed Ahmed Rahhal is a photojournalist based in northwest Syria. Since 2017, Mohammed has worked with the White Helmets to capture stories from inside Syria during the crisis. His work has appeared in media outlets from the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times to Anadolu Agency. To follow his work and for inquiries, please reach out via Facebook.