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Promoting Inclusion of People with Disabilities in Refugee and Displacement Settings

Author: Women's Refugee Commission : Contact: womensrefugeecommission.org

Published: 2014-05-03

Synopsis and Key Points:

New research throws spotlight on positive practices and ongoing gaps to meet the needs of 6.7 million displaced people with disabilities.

Main Digest

From "forgotten" to "vulnerable" to "valuable" - Promoting inclusion of persons with disabilities in refugee and displacement settings.

A new report from the Women's Refugee Commission, Disability Inclusion: Translating Policy into Practice in Humanitarian Action (womensrefugeecommission.org/programs/disabilities/disability-inclusion), launched today, highlights the challenges facing the estimated 6.7 million people with disabilities who are forcibly displaced around the world due to persecution, conflict and human rights violations, as well as advances in improving accessibility and inclusion in humanitarian programs.

Group discussions with more than 770 displaced persons, including persons with disabilities and their families, and nearly 400 humanitarian actors across eight countries,[1] revealed that women, children and youth with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to protection concerns.

"We found a pattern of stigma and discrimination that hinders access to education for children with disabilities, and results in exclusion of adolescent girls with disabilities from peer networks that may enhance their protection from various forms of violence, including gender-based violence," said Emma Pearce, senior disability program officer, at the Women's Refugee Commission, who authored the report. "Women and girls with disabilities reported fear of sexual violence, with concrete examples suggesting that those with intellectual and mental disabilities may be most at risk. Finally, parents and care-givers of persons with disabilities who are isolated in homes and shelters expressed concerns about access to basic supplies to ensure personal hygiene and care for their family member, and psychological stress or worry about who will care for their family member in the future as they grow older. Persons with disabilities shared with us not only these concerns, but also their ideas for change, and contributed to our workshops with humanitarian actors to address these issues."

Since the Women's Refugee Commission first raised concerns in 2008 about access and inclusion for persons with disabilities in its groundbreaking report Disabilities among Refugee and Conflict-Affected Populations (www.womensrefugeecommission.org/programs/disabilities/research-and-resources/609-disabilities-among-refugees-and-conflict-affected-populations-1/file), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has committed to ensuring that the rights of persons with disabilities are met without discrimination. The organization has started a process to make programs more inclusive and accessible, including releasing guidance for country operations and partners on Working with Persons with Disabilities in Forced Displacement (www.unhcr.org/4ec3c81c9.html).

Today's report highlights the growing awareness among UNHCR staff and partners on the needs of persons with disabilities and captures positive approaches being undertaken to translate policies on disability inclusion into practice. These approaches include context-specific action planning that involves refugees with disabilities as partners, not just beneficiaries; strengthening the capacity of groups of women with disabilities in Nepal; and providing training to case managers on persons with disabilities at heightened risk in Lebanon.

Despite this progress, there continues to be a gap in capacity to provide ongoing and consistent technical support to humanitarian actors at field levels. Another gap is that refugees and displaced persons with disabilities rarely have contact with host-country disabled people's organizations (DPOs) that could advocate for their access to services and programs, and include information about the conditions of this group in human rights reporting.

The report published today makes a number of recommendations to improve humanitarian assistance for refugees with disabilities, including:

"While it's encouraging that real strides have been made by UNHCR and the humanitarian community to recognize the needs of displaced persons with disabilities, this report highlights that the persons with disabilities are one of the most valuable and yet overlooked resources in the refugee community," said Sarah Costa, executive director, Women's Refugee Commission. "From Afghan, Burmese and Somali refugees in India, to Eritrean, Rwandan and Congolese refugees in Uganda, the people we spoke to described not only the concerns they face on a daily basis, but also their ideas and suggestions for change. As one young man with disabilities in Lebanon said, 'Let's be creative - we need a space and then we can do things together.' This is valuable advice for all humanitarian programs."

"UNHCR's partnership with the Women's Refugee Commission demonstrates both organizations' commitment to increasing access and inclusion of persons with disabilities in all aspects of our programming to continue to address critical protection concerns, such as violence - including sexual and gender-based violence - against persons with disabilities, as well as exploitation, discrimination and exclusion of persons with disabilities," said Anne-Christine Eriksson, deputy director of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees' New York office.

The report Disability Inclusion: Translating Policy into Practice in Humanitarian Action , as well as a four-page executive summary, is available at: womensrefugeecommission.org/programs/disabilities/disability-inclusion

The report's author, Emma Pearce, senior program officer, disabilities, at the Women's Refugee Commission, is available for interview. Please contact Diana Quick at 212.551.2943 or MelissaG@wrcommission.org to set up interviews.

The Women's Refugee Commission is a research and advocacy organization that works to improve the lives and protect the rights of women, children and youth displaced by war, persecution and natural disaster.

[1] Field visits were carried out in India, Uganda, Thailand, Bangladesh, Nepal, Ethiopia, Philippines and Lebanon.

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