RESOURCE: Refugees with Disabilities: Facts and Solutions
What population in the world is the most excluded, marginalized, or simply forgotten? Many readers of this blog probably would immediately say, “people with disabilities.” But if you were to talk with someone who is a refugee from war, or someone who works with them, they might immediately say, “refugees.” So who is right? I suspect probably both. So what then of refugees with disabilities–forgotten both by people in the wider disability community and by people who work with refugees? Even this blog, in more than 300 posts, has only barely mentioned them before.
The Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children in June 2008 released two publications highly relevant to this community. The first is a report, Disabilities Among Refugees and Conflict-Affected Populations (PDF format, 1.81 Mb, 76 pages), that provides an overview of the situation facing disabled refugees. The second publication is meant to give workers some guidance in how they can ensure that refugees with disabilities are fully included in their programs: Disabilities Among Refugees and Conflict-Affected Populations: Resource Kit for Fieldworkers (PDF format, 328 Kb, 32 pages).
The report estimates that there are about 2.5 to 3.5 million refugees with disabilities around the world–enough, I would point out, to fill a small country. Not surprisingly, the report finds enormous challenges: shelters, food and water distribution centers, latrines, schools, health centers, and other vital services are often inaccessible. Refugees with disabilities are sometimes actively excluded from vocational training programs. Or, if they’re not intentially denied the right to participate, then they are often inherently excluded by the lack of appropriate accommodations.
Refugees dispersed in urban centers, away from refugee camps, often are even worse off. In concentrated refugee populations, at least it becomes easier to identify people with disabilities and thus to tailor services for them. But refugees living in the community, because they may be undocumented, are reluctant to identify themselves to receive services, whether or not they have disabilities. Furthermore, refugees with disabilities in urban settings are often ignored both by services for refugees generally and also by local Disabled People’s Organizations (DPOs): in short, they often are being served by no one.
The good news is, some services do exist, including efforts to provide education to children with disabilities at least in refugee settlements. In some locations, refugees with disabilities and their families have organized their own self-help groups.
The accompanying resource kit is targeted at United Nations, nongovernmental organization (NGOs), and Disabled persons’ organization field staff who work with refugees, asylum seekers, and internationally displaced people with disabilities. Readers can consult this kit for ideas on improving services and protection for people with disabilities so they can participate more fully in their communities. If you’re looking for concrete, prescriptive guidelines and checklists, you won’t find that here. What you will find are questions that planners and decision makers should know the answers to, or find the solutions for. These offer broad guidelines as to the kinds of problem areas they should be on the look out for, with suggestions for how to address them.
At first glance, it seems an excellent start–with plenty of room for improvement. The Women’s Commission seems to be highly conscious of this: the introduction indicates they hope to build upon this publication in the future with input from, among others, DPOs and displaced people with disabilities themselves.
Download the report (PDF format, 1.81 Mb) at:
Download the resource kit for fieldworkers (PDF format, 328 Kb), at:
We Can Do found this resource via the Disabled People International electronic newsletter and also during the course of assembling resources to go up on the Resource section of the Disability Rights Fund website. (The latter is still being constructed, but check back in late August or early September.)
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