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Heart operation for young Syrian refugee

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Heart operation for young Syrian refugee
Infant Zaid with his parents and sister in Vienna. Photo: Ruth Schoeffl/UNHCR
12:47 CEST+02:00
Syrian refugees are flooding into Europe. Austria recently agreed to accept 1500 more asylum seekers. The Local looks at how one family has fared, and what the new life in Austria means to them.

UNHCR Syrian refugees Abdulrazaq and Raja feared for the worst last August when their son, Zaid, was born in exile in Jordan suffering from a serious heart condition.

Jordan has been generous in accepting almost 600,000 of the 2.8 million refugees that have fled from the civil war in neighbouring Syria, but the massive influx has put a tremendous strain on basic services, including health care. Many refugees need hospitalisation, some for life-threatening conditions that Jordan struggles to treat.
 
Abdulrazaq and Raja, who had fled to Jordan two years ago with their five-year-old daughter Ielaf, were desperate to get assistance for Zaid – the toddler needed open heart surgery. Their case came to the attention of UNHCR and the refugee agency identified the boy as extremely vulnerable and in need of help.

UNHCR recommended the family for resettlement in Austria, which in August last year agreed to take in 500 Syrian refugees under a humanitarian admission programme. In April this year, the government announced that another 1,000 would be taken in. Austria has put a priority on offering resettlement to women and children in countries neighbouring Syria.

"This is a strong sign of solidarity towards the refugee community," stressed UNHCR's Christoph Pinter, adding that "what is most important – it can be life-saving for the most vulnerable refugees."

Abdulrazaq, aged 30, said he and his wife were relieved and delighted when they heard they were going to be sent to a country where their son could be given life-saving assistance.

"We were so happy when we heard from UNHCR that we will be able to move to a country where . . . the operation could be performed right away," recalled Abdulrazaq. "We did not mind at all which country it was; our only concern was to get the best medical care for Zaid."

The family, including young Ielaf, who is still suffering from the trauma of their time in Syria, flew to the Austrian capital, Vienna, in February.

On arrival at Vienna International Airport, little Zaid was transferred immediately to the city's General Hospital, where doctors performed open heart surgery. The operation was a success, but Zaid remained in hospital for a few weeks before being allowed to join his parents, who had taken turns looking over him in the ward.

"Everything went well," Raja smiled, holding Zaid firmly in her arms. "We only have to go to the hospital for regular checks on Zaid's condition, and we have to keep him in an environment free of germs." The family will soon move into an apartment near the hospital.

As refugees, Zaid and his family are entitled to social support, including free medical care and access to education. The parents have the right to employment and Abdulrazaq, who worked as a carpenter and taxi driver in his native Homs, noted: "We are determined to learn German and look for work."

For now, Raja's priority is to see her two children regain their health; she is thinking of trying to get counselling for Ielaf to help end the nightmares. "She still hears the noises of the war and the bombs," Raja explained, adding that the girl was terrified by sudden noises like doors slamming. It reminds her of the time their home in Homs was hit by artillery fire.

But despite the continuing concerns, Raja is grateful for their current situation. "We are dreaming of a bright future for our children," she said.

By Ruth Schoeffl 

Reprinted courtesy of UNHCR.

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