Go to Press Releases library
Press Releases

Bringing Displaced Persons with Disabilities out from the Shadows

Women’s Refugee Commission urges that the rights of refugees with disabilities be recognized in human rights monitoring mechanisms

New York, NY, September 12, 2012—As the fifth session of the Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities gets underway, the Women’s Refugee Commission calls on all parties to ensure that in implementing the Convention, they recognize and ensure the rights of refugee and other displaced women and children with disabilities, who face particular risks. The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities aims to advance the rights of persons with disabilities, including those who have been displaced because of conflict or natural disaster.

“Displaced persons with disabilities remain invisible in more ways than one,” said Emma Pearce, Program Officer, Disabilities, for the Women's Refugee Commission. “Not only are they socially isolated and separated from their communities, but they are rarely consulted when humanitarian programs are designed and implemented.”

Ms. Pearce will be speaking on a panel today that the Women’s Refugee Commission is co-hosting with the Permanent Mission of Australia to the United Nations called “Ensuring the CRPD is Working for Refugee Women and Children” at the UN’s North Lawn Building.

The World Health Organization estimates that 15 percent of any population is made up of persons with disabilities, with potentially higher proportions in communities that have fled war or natural disasters. Based on this, as many as 6.3 million of the world’s more than 42 million people displaced by conflict live with disabilities. These individuals are among the most vulnerable and socially excluded groups in any refugee or displaced community. Their needs are rarely accounted for in data that is collected during and after humanitarian crises. They are more likely to face sexual abuse and exploitation, and often lack access to services or projects that could help them. For those confined to refugee camps, there may be restrictions on their rights in the host country, and they often do not have contact with disabled people’s organizations, which might be able to represent and advocate for their rights.

“Persons with disabilities have to be able to voice their needs and to participate in every program,” said Saowalak Thongkuay, Regional Development Officer for Disabled Peoples’ International’s Asia-Pacific Region. Ms. Thongkuay is in town for the week and will also be speaking on the panel and taking part in several other side events. She advocates for the full participation of persons with disabilities in mainstream society and for making decisions that affect their own lives.

In places affected by humanitarian crisis, there are still great inequities. The Women’s Refugee Commission has been supporting the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in applying the Convention in their work. One finding is that even though many of the host countries where refugees live have ratified the Convention, displaced persons with disabilities may still not have access to the host country’s policies and programs for persons with disabilities.

In the Asia region, the Women's Refugee Commission is also working with Disabled Peoples’ International and the University of Sydney to raise awareness among disabled people’s organizations about refugees and displaced persons and to help them identify ways to include them in their work.

“As we engage directly with women, children and young persons with disabilities in these contexts, we are discovering not only the depth of human rights concerns which they experience, but also their capacity to contribute to solutions,” said Ms. Pearce. “We need to see refugees with disabilities as partners, not just beneficiaries—with skills and capacities to contribute to organizations and the whole community.”

For more information, contact Diana Quick at 212.551.3087 or DianaQ@wrcommission.org.