Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 19 August 2019

Disabled Syrian woman makes UN plea for the 'invisible'

Nujeen Mustafa travelled to Germany in her wheelchair in 2015

Nujeen Mustafa addressed the UN Security Council on Wednesday. AP
Nujeen Mustafa addressed the UN Security Council on Wednesday. AP

A young Syrian with cerebral palsy, who travelled in a wheelchair from Syria to Germany as a refugee, on Wednesday urged the UN Security Council to focus more on her country's "invisible" people – the disabled.

It was the first time the council formally considered the rights of disabled people affected by conflict, a watchdog said.

"I call on all members of the council to do more to make sure there is humanitarian access to address the urgent needs of the people affected by the conflict, particularly people with disabilities," said Nujeen Mustafa, 20.

She reached Germany in September 2015 after a month-long, 2,000-kilometre journey with family members that included a terrifying boat trip to Greece, after it became too dangerous for them to stay in Aleppo.

Ms Mustafa, who dreamed of becoming an astronaut, wrote a memoir of her experience and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai hailed her as an inspiration.

A student in Germany, Ms Mustafa has become an advocate for the rights of disabled people in conflict, trying to get states and UN agencies to include them in humanitarian aid.

"There is very little data on how many people with disabilities live in Syria or have fled to neighbouring countries, and what our needs are," she said.

"Without this data, the programmes and policies just don't meet our needs. We're invisible."

Human Rights Watch in New York backed Ms Mustafa's call, saying the Security Council "should urgently act to improve the protection of people with disabilities in armed conflict".

Ms Mustafa drew the council's attention to the situation in Syria's extremist-controlled Idlib region, home to about three million people.

It has come under increasing bombardment since former Al Qaeda affiliate Hayat Tahrir Al Sham took full control in January.

"In Idlib there are more than 175,000 people with disabilities, many of whom now have disabilities because of the conflict," she said.

"The council cannot allow Idlib to be another Aleppo, with hundreds of thousands forced to flee."

Her appeal was reinforced by Ursula Mueller, UN assistant secretary general for humanitarian affairs.

More than 200 civilians have been killed since February as a direct result of increased military clashes, Ms Mueller said.

"Civilian structures, particularly schools and hospitals, continue to be hit" in the extremists' last Syrian bastion, she said.

Idlib has since September been protected from a regime offensive by a fragile ceasefire deal signed by Damascus ally Russia and rebel-backer Turkey.

But at the UN, several countries are worried that "the Russians will soon let the regime take back the pocket in a bloodbath and with their support", a diplomatic source said.

"There are more and more Russian signals that the situation in Idlib is untenable, that it will be necessary to burst the abscess and that the province will return to the fold of the government," the source said.

On Wednesday, a powerful explosion in Idlib killed 18 people including more than a dozen civilians, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The cause of the blast was not immediately known.

Updated: April 25, 2019 04:46 AM