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  • From “forgotten” to “vulnerable” to “valuable” – persons with disabilities in refugee and displacement settings

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    A new report from the Women's Refugee Commission, Disability Inclusion: Translating Policy into Practice in Humanitarian Action, highlights the challenges facing the estimated 7.7 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.

    Geneva, Switzerland, July 10, 2014 – A new report from the Women's Refugee Commission, Disability Inclusion: Translating Policy into Practice in Humanitarian Action, launched today at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Geneva, highlights the challenges facing the estimated 7.7 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.

    At the launch, UNHCR and the government of Finland announced their increased commitment to disability inclusion. UNHCR will recruit a professional to provide technical support and will develop training materials for use across the entire agency. The government of Finland has committed to fund this work for the next three years.

    The Women's Refugee Commission's report is based on discussions with more than 770 displaced persons, including persons with disabilities and their families, and nearly 400 humanitarian actors across eight countries.

     

    "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," said Rachael Reilly, Geneva representative at the Women's Refugee Commission. "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. 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 members 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, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has committed to ensuring that the rights of persons with disabilities are met without discrimination. The agency 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.

    The Women's Refugee Commission's new 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.

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

    • UNHCR should provide more intensive technical support on disability inclusion to its country operations at different stages in the planning cycle, as well as in different phases of a crisis. UNHCR should also conduct a global assessment of the implementation of the UNHCR Guidance on Disability, and advocate for disability inclusion across the humanitarian community by sharing positive practices.
    • Humanitarian organizations should conduct context- and program-specific action planning on disability inclusion; prioritize ongoing (not one-off) capacity development on disability inclusion for staff, partners and communities; and increase support to case managers, who play a critical role in identifying and responding to the needs of persons with disabilities.
    • Disability service providers should build protection mainstreaming into their programs and projects, and disabled people's organizations (DPOs) networks should raise awareness about refugees and displaced persons with disabilities.
    • Donors should support organizations to recruit, train and mentor a cadre of staff to provide technical support on disability inclusion in humanitarian contexts – and encourage partners to document positive practices in disability inclusion through reporting and monitoring processes.

    "We are thrilled that UNHCR and the government of Finland have made such huge commitments to displaced persons with disabilities. This is a real step toward more effectively responding to their needs," said Sarah Costa, executive director, Women's Refugee Commission. "But we must also remember that persons with disabilities are a valuable, yet often overlooked resource in the refugee community, with important ideas and suggestions for change. As one young man with a disability 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."

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

    Rachael Reilly, Geneva representative, Women's Refugee Commission, is available for interview. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., +41 22 733 4051.

    tags: Disabilities